Merope’s hands tremble as she struggles to lift a washing basket filled with freshly washed clothes, weighed down by the water still in the clothes even after she squeezed them. At last, she manages to hold it and she stumbles towards the garden, panting. But then, it becomes too much for her, and she drops it, the heavy basket landing on her toe, the clothes spilling out and becoming muddied.
She quickly stuffs her fist into her mouth to stop her yelp of pain, grimacing at the situation. Merope has spent the last two hours washing them with her bare hands. She doesn’t think it can get any worse, until she realises that she is being watched.
“I was right to withdraw you from Hogwarts, you useless bag of shit!” screams Marvolo Gaunt. “You're twelve fucking years old and you can't even carry the fucking basket with magic—”
“B-but... we aren’t allowed to use magic outside...” Merope whimpers and can’t complete her sentence at the sight of her father’s outraged face. She is grateful for Morfin’s absence; one less person to terrorise her, at least.
“BOLLOCKS!” he roars. Merope shrinks a little as she backs into the corner of their tiny garden in fright. “You're a good-for-nothing Squib, that’s what you are! If that isn’t done in the next ten minutes...”
“But... Father!” she calls timidly, her voice barely a whisper. She does not dare raise it above that for fear of admonishment. To her surprise, he actually looks like he will listen to her, his expression expectant.
Merope falters. “I can’t use m-magic. It’s... it’s against the...” She trails off, blanching as she watches her father, yet not daring to meet his eyes.
As he always does in anger, Marvolo reverts to Parseltongue. The threats are even more menacing in his rapid hissing, and Merope holds her breath, bracing herself for some kind of gruelling punishment for saying such a thing. She is relieved when he at last turns and walks away. He resumes his tirade in English: “You’ll be pissing in your pants next time you see me... no daughter of mine, only of that dead whore...”
ii. to injure by striking or pressing:
Six years on, Marvolo’s snarled words in Parseltongue are just as frightening as they were when Merope was twelve, particularly in the presence of the Ministry official.
“But I got him, Father! I got him as he went by, and he didn't look so pretty with hives all over him, did he, Merope?*” Morfin jeers at his sister.
Merope takes a sharp, audible intake of breath as her brother’s hissing finally ceases. Taking a step back (her neck still hurts from when Marvolo was showing the man from the Ministry the locket on there), her father advances on her. Why, Morfin? she implores silently, trying to stem the tears that have already sprung from her eyes. Why humiliate me like this?
She knows it is useless, however; her plea for Morfin to keep quiet has never worked in the past, so she doubts it will work now.
“You disgusting little Squib, you filthy little blood traitor!*”
Marvolo’s monkey-like eyes bulge as he reaches out to strangle her. The Ministry official is shouting as Merope screams, and then, after a hastily uttered spell, Marvolo is thrown back by an invisible force.
His daughter sobs as she watches in horror. Morfin is waving both his wand and his knife threateningly. The official, at least, takes this as his cue to flee, and Merope wishes with all her heart that she could follow him. But, as if she is glued to her position on the grimy floor in the middle of the room, she cannot move, and time seems to stand still as Marvolo shouts abuse at the man from the Ministry running from the house. Morfin follows him, jets of light streaming out of his wand, and swear words spilling from his mouth. When it is clear that they have left and that his words are becoming pointless, Marvolo at last falls silent.
Merope heaves a sigh of relief, something she regrets instantly.
“Do you think that that’s the end of it, girl?” Marvolo barks. She cowers at his raised voice. “You’ve dishonoured us, you slut! You’re a pureblood, and you’ve been going after that Muggle!”
“I... I haven’t g-gone after—”
Merope is cut off by Marvolo’s voice. “You’re scum!” he spits. “You’re no daughter of mine — no descendant of Salazar Slytherin would— DON’T TOUCH THAT!”
For, instinctively, she has — without conscious thought — closed her hands around her locket, the locket that her father claims was Slytherin’s himself.
He lunges towards her, his eyes maniacal as he wrenches the chain from her neck by pulling as hard as he could. Several strands of Merope’s hair are trapped in between her neck and the chain, and when Marvolo finally pulls it free, the hairs come off with it. Merope winces in pain, flinching when her father looks ready to beat her with his bare hands.
Somehow, miraculously, she manages to stay upright and move away, but in her haste, Merope doesn’t realise that she is backing into a corner — the very corner where the steaming pot on the stove is. Before she knows it, the pot has fallen, and the substance within it splashes on Merope’s bare toes.
Merope screams, a noise which intensifies as she watches her father grab a knife from the draining board. Fear seems to root her to the spot. Marvolo, meanwhile, holds the knife directly above the flame from the stove, heating up the metal. She doesn’t know what he is doing, and then, without warning, he presses the boiling knife against Merope’s cheek, its tip skimming her skin and drawing just a few droplets of blood.
Merope can’t even struggle. She’s helpless, but her screams gradually reduce to cries and then eventually to sobs.
“D’you see this blood, Merope?” he asks calmly as he finally removes the knife from her skin. It has left an ugly mark there, and the blood trickles down her cheek. Marvolo holds the knife up to show her the blood, his tone conversational, as if they are discussing the weather. “What is it? Pure, like mine, like Morfin’s?”
Merope doesn’t answer. “Answer me, girl!” he demands, brandishing it in front of her. She flinches again, hoping, praying, that it doesn’t pierce her skin again. “Answer me! Tell me if this blood, your blood, is pure, or if it’s dirty like that Muggle scum!” He jerks a thumb at the window, indicating the general direction of the sound of laughter, coming from Tom Riddle and his companion, no doubt.
“It’s... it’s p—” she begins to whisper, but she never finishes, because at that very moment, ten Ministry officials burst through the door, wands drawn.
Even as Merope’s brother and father struggle against the officers, her father involuntarily dropping the locket in the process, with her face still stinging from the knife, Merope realises that she is now free.
iii. to injure or hurt slightly, as with an insult or unkind remark:
It kills Merope to see her with him.
The pain is more intense than the hottest knife on her skin, and it bruises her far more than her father could.
And yet it is necessary for her plan to work. Merope needs to know Tom’s schedule to the letter in order for her to trick him into taking the love potion. Her love for him has only increased since she began watching him. Whenever he goes past on his horse, whether or not he is with that Cecelia girl, Merope’s heart beats faster at the sight of him, and the sound of his voice is music to her ears.
She tries to convince herself that the plan is infallible, that it cannot go wrong. She has spent the last three months researching love potions, watching Tom and making the potion itself — not an easy feat, given Merope has never made such a potion before. Even though she has chosen the simplest potion (the more complex ones are advantageous in that they are much longer lasting and do not need to be replenished as often) with the cheapest ingredients possible, it has taken four failed attempts before she has finally been able to make it correctly.
Merope now knows that on Wednesdays, Tom Riddle rides alone, from the hours of five p.m. to seven p.m. She also knows that his horse takes a rest near the copse of trees just a few yards away from her house at precisely six o’clock.
It is five to six. Clutching the potion-filled goblet, Merope awaits Tom anxiously. Sure enough, at six o’clock, he is riding in the direction of the trees, and Merope cannot help but smile at the sight of him.
Focus! she urges herself. With her wand in her other hand, she waits behind a tree as the horse stops near the copse.
Taking a deep breath, just as Tom slides off his horse, wiping the sweat from his brow, Merope emerges from her hiding place.
“Hello, Tom,” she says boldly, barely registering his surprise that she knows his name. She holds her wand behind her back. “It’s — it’s a hot day, is it not? Would you care for a glass of water?”
“Who are you?”
“My name is...” she begins, but Tom interrupts, wrinkling his nose and stepping away from her — for she has edged close to him already.
“You're the tramp’s daughter,” he says, a disdainful expression on his face. Even though she is used to being insulted copiously, it still hurts Merope to hear him say that.
He makes to turn away, but somehow, Merope manages to stop him. “Wait!” she calls. “Please... just have some water.”
Instinctively, she waves her wand, muttering the now well-practised incantation, and the goblet flies upwards so it is level with Tom’s mouth. Another wave of her wand and it tips into his open protesting mouth. He’s taken by surprise, and there is nothing Tom can do to stop it — he coughs and splutters as the potion goes down his throat.
Merope watches carefully, noting the change of Tom’s demeanour. His glazed eyes reflect the hungry expression in Merope’s eyes, and his frown slowly becomes a smile. She summons up the courage to reach out and wipe the potion away from his lips, and he does not flinch or step back, but seems to relish her touch.
She’s in heaven as his lips touch her skin.
iv. to crush by beating or pounding:
He is gone.
She has stopped giving him the potion. And when she told him who she was, what she was, Tom left the cottage immediately. Merope tried to follow him, but he was much faster than her. It took her longer than she thought to reach the cottage’s door, and by that point, he was already out of sight. She gave up then, and an unexpected feeling of fatigue overwhelmed her so much that she had eventually fallen asleep, despite wanting to stay up for him, in case he came back and she missed him.
It is now the early hours of the morning and there is no trace of him in their tiny cottage. He has taken all he can with him. Presumably, he is back at the Riddle House. The cottage isn’t far from Little Hangleton, after all. She can’t ever go back to her home, lest she come across her father in the village.
Merope’s dream, the dream that they could somehow be a couple without him being enslaved by the potion, is crushed to pieces. The expression on his face upon finding out that she had him under her spell leaves bruises in Merope’s memory.
She manages to get out of bed, her breasts feeling unexpectedly heavy. The first thing she sees is her reflection, and it finally dawns on her what she is: a tramp’s daughter, one who is deluded into thinking that anyone could ever fall in love with her, least of all a Muggle. She stares at herself, scrutinising the burn on her face. Merope yearns to feel Tom’s kisses again on her damaged skin, and yet she knows that it is pointless.
Her life is pointless. Tom, her one purpose for living, Tom, whom she had hoodwinked into loving her, Tom... he was gone. He had promised to heal her beaten face, kiss it better... but all that is a fantasy now.
She shuts her eyes, unable to look at herself any longer, and makes her way to the kitchen, the strange tenderness in her breasts making it difficult for her to walk quickly. Perhaps things will be better once she eats something.
Opening a drawer, she fumbles for cutlery, but she can't get hold of what she wants. The forks and spoons and knives slip through her fingers until she finally takes hold of a handle.
She realises there are so many things she can do with this knife. So many things she can cut...
In her mind’s eye, she pictures herself pressing the knife into her chest. She imagines the careful, precise insertion of the dagger, and the blood splattering...
Futilely, she tries to swallow what is forming in her throat. At first, she thinks they are tears, but she quickly realises that it is bile. She vomits into the sink, tears sputtering from her eyes as she does so, and she wonders why she feels so sick.
Pregnancy. The first rational thought in her head, and the one most likely given the circumstances. Merope’s period is late by two weeks already. But then, she’s never been regular, so she tries to convince herself that it will come, and soon.
Unconsciously, she fingers the knife’s handle again, and she even manages to hold it in front of her. So easy... if only there wasn’t a child inside her.
But is there? she wonders. She can’t help but hope that there is. She loves Tom, but he has gone away. This child — assuming his or her existence — would be powerless without her, dependent on its mother.
This somehow forces her to return the knife to the drawer, but she makes a resolution: if, in the likely possibility that she discovers she is not pregnant, then the knife will come out again.
i. to effect a cure:
She waits anxiously, fully expecting to see her blood. Yet it never comes for her again.
A month passes and Merope’s suspicions are confirmed. She wishes she knew a spell that could make her more certain, but all the symptoms are there.
The constant vomiting, the ache in her breasts, the feeling of nausea — the very fact that pregnancy is a possible cause for this is enough to keep Merope away from the knife.
But now, she is certain; or, at least, as certain as is possible for Merope.
She is carrying his child. She doesn’t know if she will last. It’s her first baby, after all.
Despite this, and the fact that she is covered in bruises, the baby fills the otherwise empty void within her, and it is all she has to live for. And that, however little, is enough for Merope.
* Excerpt taken from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, chapter 10, page 199, British edition.
This story has given me a lot of grief, so I'd appreciate any and all feedback on it. All reviews get a response.