Author's Notes: I own the plot, original characters, banner, and all chapter images throughout the story. Everything else is owned by J.K. Rowling. Please be aware that I have blended in my own original ideas with canon information and I'll be happy to discuss anything in a review or a PM.
Chapter Six: An Interlude To Love
"If music be the food of love, play on." - William Shakespeare
Silvermist Woods was a quaint, peaceful country hamlet, a bit larger in size than Little Hangleton. The cottages were well-kept and plenty of cows and horses grazed in the leafy fields. Like in any other rural town, the neighbors called cheerfully to one another, elderly men sat smoking their pipes together on doorsteps, and children played kick-ball on the front lawn.
But the minute Bethe turned onto Oculovis Lane, she instinctively sensed something different about this particular corner of the village. Perhaps it had to do with that oddly dressed woman sweeping her porch. Or maybe it was the little boy playing with a baby owl in the grass, or the four weatherbeaten broomsticks that lay in a pile against a nearby shed. Whatever it was, Bethe could detect it and once again she felt the current of truth in Merope's words.
Number 13 was a little sky-blue cottage with a very neat garden. On her way to the front door, Bethe looked to the houses on the left and right, wondering which had been her parents'. The lane continued for some distance to the right. At its end she could glimpse a high cast-iron gate and the ivy-covered walls of a great mansion. Another Riddle family, she thought ironically. Her knock was answered by a middle-aged woman in an apron covered with flour.
"Good afternoon," said Bethe. "I wonder if a Mrs. Orla Jones lives here?"
"Yes, she's my mother," the woman answered. "Are you a friend?"
"Not particularly, but my parents and I used to live next door," she explained.
The woman took a closer look at her and gasped. "I thought you looked familiar!" she exclaimed. "You're not Wilhemina's daughter, are you?"
Bethe smiled, delighted. "Yes, I am!"
"Come in! Mama has been expecting you," said the woman, excitedly dusting off her apron.
"Of course! Let me have a look at you, dear. The very image of Wilhemina. I'm Marion Fiske," she added, shaking hands warmly. "And you are Isabethe, of course; Mina always loved that name. I was at school with your mother and I was her maid of honor at the wedding."
"How wonderful!" Bethe exclaimed. "Have you always lived here then?"
"I was born and raised here, and your father grew up down the lane," explained Marion, leading the way through the spotless house. "We didn't become friends until he and Mina started dating. He always was a bit arrogant, but I suppose he had an excuse. His mother owned the village, you see."
Bethe gave a start of surprise. "My grandmother owns Silvermist Woods?"
Marion paused and turned to look at her. "Owned it, dear. She died shortly before you were born. Probably rolling in her grave at all the Muggles infiltrating her village these days." She chuckled and continued talking before Bethe could ask what Muggles were. "She lived in that mansion at the end of the lane. Why do you think it's called Oculovis Lane? She always had a way with naming things, and fancy Latin names took the cake." She continued through the house and Bethe trailed after her thoughtfully.
Oculovis ... the eye that sees, she guessed roughly. Latin had never been her strong point.
"Mama, look who's come to see you," announced Marion, walking out into a small garden filled with early September roses.
In a chair by the rose bed sat the most ancient woman Bethe had ever seen. She was small and frail like a bird and her skin was like wrinkled paper. Despite her age, her bright blue eyes were keen and alert. She took one look at Bethe and a slow smile spread across her face. "So," remarked Orla Jones, "you've finally come."
Marion pulled out a chair for Bethe. "I'll let you two talk," she said cheerfully, heading back into the house. "I have some pies that need tending to."
Bethe sat down facing the old woman. "Mrs. Jones, do you know who I am?"
"Of course," she returned, looking intently at her visitor. "You've certainly grown, haven't you? The last time I saw you, you were this big." She moved her hands apart to demonstrate the length of a baby. "I've never stopped wondering what happened to you. I still feel guilty that I couldn't take you in, after having been such friends with your grandmother."
"Please, Mrs. Jones, I don't expect apologies -" Bethe began.
"Ah well, I was old then and now I'm older still," continued the elderly woman as though she hadn't heard. "I would have had Marion take you in, but she was in Africa with her scientist husband. I knew he would come to no good, traveling all over the world like that, and true enough he got the scarlet fever and died. Marion came back, but it had already been four years since I'd given you to the orphanage. When we came to find you, you were gone."
"I was adopted when I was three," spoke Bethe. "We lived in Bellever and then I moved to Little Hangleton ten years ago." She took the letter from her pocket and handed it over. "I went to the orphanage this morning and they gave me the letter you wrote. I came to find you and to hear about my parents."
Mrs. Jones accepted the letter but didn't read it; perhaps her eyesight would not allow her to. "Naturally," she replied. "What would you like to know?"
Bethe took a deep breath. "Were - were they wizards?"
A gurgle of laughter escaped the old woman. "My dear! Of course they were!" She looked sharply at her visitor. "Had I known you'd be adopted by a Muggle - a non-magic person - I would never have given you up. Your parents were a witch and a wizard. Your father was a Trelawney, an ancient wizarding family."
"I beg your pardon ... you mean Lawney, don't you?" Bethe said, confused.
"Trelawney," Mrs. Jones emphasized. "Believe me, I didn't grow up with your grandmother for nothing. Cassandra Trelawney never hesitated to remind everyone of her lineage."
"But the letter -" Bethe began, and suddenly remembered the smudge that had blurred her parents' surname. And of course, the "L" in Lawney had not been capitalized ...
"I apologize. I'm afraid I had been weeping on the letter a great deal the night I gave you away," said Mrs. Jones with a chuckle. "Let me explain everything. The great Cassandra Trelawney was your grandmother. Among her ancestors were two Ministers of Magic, a Headmistress of Hogwarts School, and of course, Cilian Trelawney, the great explorer. Muggles liked to call him a pirate and he didn't bother to correct them. Thought it sounded impressive." She laughed again. "Cassandra herself was known for being a great Seer."
Bethe leaned forward urgently. "A Seer?"
Mrs. Jones eyed her carefully. "It was a gift passed down through the Trelawney women, but Cassandra was the greatest of them all. She was a celebrity among wizards, you know. There was some trouble with the Chocolate Frog Company a few years ago, a scuffle about whether to put her on a Chocolate Frog card..."
The younger woman hadn't the foggiest idea what a Chocolate Frog card was, but decided against asking. She urged Mrs. Jones to continue.
"Cassandra married her cousin and they had two sons. Gerald is still alive today. His younger brother, Alfred, was your father. He grew up spoiled and wayward, but returned from Hogwarts a changed man after he met your mother." Mrs. Jones frowned. "After your grandparents' death, Gerald and Alfred had a blazing row and parted forever. Alfred and his wife moved next door, and all I know of Gerald is that he left for Ireland."
"I wonder what happened," Bethe murmured.
The elderly woman shook her head sadly. "I'm afraid we'll never know. The brothers never reconciled." She sighed heavily. "The night your parents drowned, they were heading for Ireland on holiday. Alfred was too proud to admit it, but I think he was hoping to find your uncle."
Bethe was silent for some time. "Thank you," she said at last, rising from her chair. She was impatient to tell Merope the news. "You've been wonderful to tell me all this, but I must be getting back home."
Mrs. Jones laughed. "You do realize that your home is here now, don't you?" she inquired. She raised her eyebrows at Bethe's puzzled face. "Trelawney Park, that great house at the end of the lane, belongs to you!"
* * *
Bob Ogden, Head of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad, arrived promptly at noon. He was shown in very reluctantly by Marvolo, who had been in a beastly mood all morning thanks to an immense headache.
Merope liked the determined little man at once. He was dressed in an odd assortment of Muggle clothing - no doubt he thought it an excellent disguise - and wore a pair of black spectacles that framed a round, kindly face. "Good morning," he said courteously.
She allowed a fleeting smile to pass over her face before noting her father's thunderous expression, and busied herself at the stove.
"So Morfin knows how to perform hexes," screeched Marvolo, evidently continuing the conversation they'd had outside. "So what? All he did was give a jumped-up Muggle what was coming to him. Is that so wrong?"
Ogden straightened his spectacles. "Yes indeed it is, Mr. Gaunt!" he exclaimed. "In fact, it is illegal. As such, Morfin is required to attend a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry..."
In his corner, Morfin giggled loudly.
"... on September fourteenth at precisely eleven o'clock in the morning," Ogden finished, ignoring him. "He will attend without fail, or we will be forced to escort him."
Marvolo sneered. "So we're to bow to your commands, are we? Do you know who we are?" he demanded, displaying a ring on his right hand. He thrust the huge black stone into Ogden's face. "This jewel shows the Peverell coat-of-arms. The Gaunts are descended from unimaginable wealth, nobility, and power. And this!" He ran over to Merope and grabbed the locket around her neck, waving it in the air. "This locket belonged to the great Salazar Slytherin himself, our most blue-blooded of ancestors."
"Yes, that's all very well," Ogden said impatiently, "but it has nothing to do with the matter at hand, Mr. Gaunt. I repeat, your son will attend a hearing in one week. He will answer to charges of harassment toward a Muggle and performing magic in front of said Muggle, as well as -"
The sound of horses and jingling reins floated in through the window and they all paused to listen. Merope froze in place, hardly daring to look outside. She knew exactly who was approaching.
"What an awful little shack!" remarked a girl's laughing voice. "I still can't believe anyone would live there."
Merope's stomach gave that familiar lurch. So, she thought grimly, he brought her with him again. Almost against her will, she looked out the window at a sight she had seen many times before.
Tom was handsome as ever, wholly unaffected by last night's incident. Riding beside him was Cecilia, stunning in deep red velvet with her shining curls under a smart little cap. They were a picture-perfect couple.
"It's that madman Gaunt who lives there," Tom explained airily. "His son's completely insane, too."
Merope tore her eyes from the scene to see Morfin grinning at her. "It's her again, isn't it?" he hissed.
Both Ogden and Marvolo gave him strange looks - Ogden because he couldn't understand Parseltongue, and Marvolo because he didn't know what his son was talking about.
"Oh, lord!" Cecilia's voice exclaimed from outside. "Look, Tom! Is that a snake hanging on the door?"
"That would be the son," responded Tom grimly. "Don't look at it, dearest."
Morfin's eyes widened triumphantly at his sister. "You see?" he said gleefully. "He called her his dearest. Not you."
Their father turned his gaze on Merope, who reddened and backed away into the corner. "What does he mean, wench?" he demanded, switching to Parseltongue like his son. "Why would that disgusting Muggle call you his dearest?"
"She loves that Muggle," Morfin informed him, still grinning wildly, "she waits for him by the window and in the garden. Last night, they were talking to each other. He knows her name and she knows his."
Marvolo let out a horrendous shriek of fury. This bit of news, along with his headache and the invasion of Bob Ogden, did nothing to improve his mood. "My daughter! A Gaunt!" he cried. "A daughter of Slytherin, and she pines for a Muggle!?" He lost his temper and began charging towards the girl.
Ogden whipped out his wand. "Stupefy!" he yelled. The spell missed, but it was enough to stop Marvolo in his tracks. Unfortunately he changed direction and headed for Ogden.
"You meddling Mudblood-lover!" screamed Marvolo. "Get him, Morfin!" His son lumbered over to block the front door, grinning evilly at Ogden.
Merope, still crouching in her corner, felt the locket heat up against her skin. Save Ogden. He must get help.
Obediently she pulled out her wand and pointed it at her brother. "Petrificus totalus!" Morfin collapsed stiffly by the door. Jumping over his body, Ogden yanked it open and ran outside with Marvolo in pursuit.
"Get out! Get off my land!" screamed Marvolo, flapping his arms madly as he watched Ogden tear off down the path.
Tom and Cecilia were still on their horses in the lane, watching the entire scene with mingled horror and amusement.
Marvolo rounded on them. "What the bloody hell are you looking at!?" he shouted angrily.
Tom straightened indignantly. "You'll do well to address me with greater respect, Gaunt," he spoke coldly, looking down at the wild-eyed man.
"Hah!" Marvolo spat in the dirt near the horses' hooves and turned to see Merope standing in the doorway. The sight of her seemed to infuriate him even more. "Get back in the house!" he screamed, flying in her direction, his fists flailing madly at his sides.
Tom was off his horse in an instant, running after the old man. He grabbed Marvolo before the man could get to his daughter and wrestled him to the ground effortlessly. "Cecilia!" he shouted. "Go back to the house! I'll be there soon."
"Be careful, Tom!" Cecilia cried anxiously, but did as he told her and fled the scene.
Marvolo continued to struggle against Tom in vain. He was old and in poor condition and Tom, who was much younger and stronger, held him down without difficulty.
A small group of people came running down the lane led by Bob Ogden, pointing excitedly. "Here he is, boys! That's the man," he said triumphantly.
Two men hurried to relieve Tom of Marvolo and a third pushed past Merope to drag out her brother. "This is the perpetrator, sir?" he called.
"That's the one!" Ogden answered, and when father and son were lying beside each other in the grass, he looked down at them contemptuously. "You are hereby arrested for resisting orders and attacking official personnel. You are to come quietly and answer to these new charges, in addition to the ones you were accused of previously."
"You're police? From Great Hangleton?" interrupted Tom, looking over their odd clothing with a puzzled expression.
Ogden looked at him in surprise, and then understanding dawned on his face. "Police ... yes ..." He signaled for the men to march the two Gaunts further down the path and then followed them himself. They made a most interesting combination of people - the officials in their colorful, mismatched clothing, gripping the dazed Morfin and his wizened monkey of a father.
Merope watched them go with an indescribable feeling, a complicated mixture of regret and jubilance. All my life I've longed for freedom, she thought wryly, but never expected it to come like this.
Bob Ogden looked over his shoulder several times as though hoping to Apparate the minute Tom could no longer see them. When the group was finally out of sight, Tom turned back to Merope. "You'll be all right?" he asked. "Alone here, I mean."
"I think so," she replied hesitantly. "Thank you for helping me."
His expression was unreadable, but she thought she could see pity in the lines of his face. "If you need work," he began awkwardly, and not unkindly, "I'm sure we can find you a position at my parents' house."
The offer took her by surprise. She was tempted to accept - never in her wildest dreams had she imagined sharing his roof - but pride overcame her. It was just as her father had said: she was a daughter of the Gaunts, a daughter of Slytherin. Lifting her chin, she looked at him with clear eyes. "You're very kind," she stated, "but I must refuse. I'm quite able to care for myself."
Tom looked at her with some surprise. Clearing his throat, he said, "In any case, I came by to see the violin you spoke of. If I take a liking to it, I may buy it from you."
"Of course," she responded, moving aside. "Won't you ... won't you come in?"
He stepped inside the cottage and Merope was acutely aware of the stained, tattered armchair and the ashes strewn across the floor. She swallowed her embarrassment and climbed up to the attic. "Just a moment." Under a pile of old boxes, she located the violin case. A thick layer of dust covered the lid and she blew it off lightly, revealing the initials A.W.G. underneath. Tucking it under one arm, she returned to the ground floor and handed it over.
"This was your mother's, you said?" he inquired, carefully opening it.
"Yes. Annabelle Walker Gaunt," Merope said, watching him lift the instrument from its bed of green velvet. Despite years of neglect it looked almost new, gleaming a deep chestnut red in the light from the window.
Tom examined the fingerboard reverently. "Beautiful," he remarked, alternately plucking the strings and turning the pegs, tuning until the sound satisfied him.
Merope held the bow out to him shyly. "Will you?"
He took it obligingly and began to play.
Near the end of her life, Merope would often wonder whether that violin had magical qualities. The music that came from it and from Tom's capable hands was mesmerizing and thrilling and frightening in its beauty. It was like the first breath of air after plunging into deep water, like the first ray of sunshine after a long and terrible winter.
It seemed to affect Tom as well. When he stopped playing, he stared down at the instrument in astonishment. And when his eyes met Merope's, the look they exchanged was like the ghost of a kiss, breathless in its nonexistence.
"I'll pay whatever sum you ask," he spoke finally, his eyes never leaving hers.
"I don't want money," said Merope hurriedly, before she lost her courage. "But would you ... return each day and play for me?" There was a brief hesitation before he gave her the slightest of nods, and when he walked out the door and swung himself onto his horse, he glanced back at her. In that glance was an understanding, a conclusion that she herself had come to: there was now no going back.
Merope stood alone in the doorway long after he had gone, listening to the unfamiliar silence. She had never been so alone, and yet she had never felt so alive.
* * *
Tom had hoped, upon returning home, that he would be able to escape quietly into his rooms without delay. Unfortunately his mother had chosen that exact moment to stand at the foot of the grand staircase and scold a servant. She looked up when he entered and smiled, quite forgetting the teary maid in front of her.
"You've returned so soon. Tom, are you ill?" she asked anxiously, noting the pallor of his face and the glazed expression in his eyes.
"Quite well, Mother, but I think I'll have a lie-down before dinner," he answered.
Mrs. Riddle eyed the dusty violin case under his arm. "What is that dreadful thing? How dirty it is!" she cried, and rounded on the maid. "Gretchen, you useless thing! Since you can't do anything else correctly, you'll clean that for Master Tom!"
Tom shook his head. "No, Mother, I'll do it myself. I'm going upstairs now and don't wish to be disturbed." He hurried past her on the stairs.
"But Tom! Cecilia is waiting in the - " Her voice faded away as he climbed further and further up the stairs.
On the third floor, he proceeded to his rooms in the east wing with relief. His valet was ironing shirts in the small antechamber off the sitting room. "I'd like to be alone, Henry. Leave that," Tom ordered.
"As you wish, sir." Henry bowed and left immediately, closing the door behind him.
Tom dropped the violin case on a table and slumped onto a sofa nearby, rubbing his eyes. He hardly knew what was wrong with him. All he wanted to do was stay here and think. About what? He closed his eyes and the answer came immediately.
A pair of wide dark eyes gazing up at him. They were spaced far apart and almost looked in opposite directions, but they were so deep and soft that he was afraid of looking into them for long. Merope ... It was obvious that her poor excuse for a father had neglected her education, but despite that, her gaze was full of thought and intelligence. And how proudly she had refused his offer of employment! She had looked him in the eye like an equal! How utterly different she was from Cecilia!
Eyes still closed, Tom conjured up an image of his intended bride. Cecilia was a swan next to Merope, but her looks were almost too vibrant and overdone. Her lovely eyes were arrogant, her laughter was false and affected, and her expression was that of a vain, pampered girl. How could he have overlooked it before? How shallow she seemed in comparison...
Tom forced himself to sit up. Stop it! he thought harshly. Have you lost your senses? She's only a peasant girl!
His hands shaking, he poured himself a brandy and sipped without tasting it. The wedding, he told himself, think about the wedding. The church would be full of people dressed in their best, all trying to outdo each other. The pews would be decorated with roses. His parents would sit near the front and his mother would cry. Cecilia would walk down the aisle, her dress streaming behind her. The violins would be playing. Violins ... Unconsciously, Tom's eyes moved to the case on the table beside him. He groaned.
It was no use.
He put down the brandy and got up, forcing himself to go back downstairs. It would be the first time he went to Cecilia with such reluctance.
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