The ominous black thorns of the hedges bristled against her cheeks as she pushed them aside lightly, her fingertips aching as the little spikes pierced calloused skin. She ignored the throbbing pain in her palms, and her beady, weary eyes darted over the path outside, expectant.
And she wasn't disappointed, for there was Tom, waltzing by. She left a soft sigh drop over her lips, gazing at the oblivious man. He was magnetic. She was compelled to simply fling herself through the hedge into his arms, if only to find her knuckles meeting his milky skin, instead of the prickly bites of her hedge.
The sight of him aroused a glimmer of something foreign in her. From the dredges of her soul, in the pit of her being, something was tugged up. For years, only a defeated exhaustion had sloshed through her veins. Dread, fear, the jingling of shattered wistfulness.
But he awakened something else. A phoenix among the ashes, if you will. Something radiant and wholesome, among a thick darkness.
Merope knew it had to be love, a word that, until then, she had only heard as 'no one could love a squib.'
But whereas that only summoned a dull grief within her, he kindled a soft, absurd warmth that lit up her eyes that quickened her pulse that gave her new fervor.
At first, she'd wondered if perhaps he was a veela. Or perhaps she was intrigued by someone who wasn't…well, wasn't Morfin, or her father.
But no. He was a simple muggle, and she loved him. It was that easy.
But it wasn't.
For, although she had come to giddy terms with it, Tom had yet to acknowledge her. They had never exchanged a single word.
But there was no way for them to--Merope was bound to the duties of the tatty house, to the eternal, fierce shouts of her family, the disgusted yells of her shamefulness.
And so, she settled for those short glances, hoping, praying, that one day he would meet her veiled eyes, and, in that mute, silently piercing language of lovers, say:
"I will save you."
And whisk her away, to live happily ever after.
But he hadn't, he hadn't. She couldn't fault him for it, for there was no opportunity, was there?
And so, he rode away, taking her longing with him.
In the sugary starlight, the heavy midnight air, she had quietly opened the threadbare cotton curtains, revealing a clawing spider or two, and had let her head peek out to see him. Her grimy, lifeless hair had hissed into the night breeze, and she watched.
And, again, he passed, with no word or gesture. There was nothing for her but the buttery feeling in the bottom of her stomach.
He was melting into the distance, again, her adoration following him.
She had endured for her Tom. She had been suffocated in hissed threats, her brother's hexes, and her father's gleaming ring branding itself onto her face in a flurry of violet bruises, for those seconds she gave to glimpse him through the thorny edges of her yard. To peek her head over the dusty, peeling window frame to see him, her Tom, pass by, agonizingly unaware.
And so, with her ardor lighting a new determination in her, Merope vowed to win her Tom. She began to dare to daydream, to entertain fairytale-ish reveries while mopping the floors, scrubbing the dishes, infused with a fresh hope.
She would have him. She was a witch, and he was but a muggle, and she could most definitely have him. Her father and brother taunted her, claiming her to be a 'squib.'
The day the Ministry wizard came, she had almost been strangled for him. As her father's calloused fingers tightened around her throat, inspired by the spiteful words of her brother, as her piercing screams rang, she felt herself drift from the entire scene, as if she was watching it. And she thought, with a sickening pride, of how much she was sacrificing in admiring Tom, even from afar.
She had given her everything to simply see him.
And, watching her father and brother led away with a grim, distant satisfaction, she turned to the ratty bookshelf that was shadowed away into a corner of the closet. Her father and brother hadn't bothered to read, but to find a few choice, horrific curses, and Merope searched until she found what she was looking for.
The Love Potion.
Months were spent toiling over the frothy cauldron, sneaking around Little Hangleton in the night, finding the ingredients. And, after two botched tries, Merope finally had it.
Four vials of pearly, bubbling liquid. In those glass tubes was her sure marriage to Tom, her aching fingertips to finally meet his.
And so, on a sultry summer day, she pruned her hedges as he trotted by, and, for the first time, spoke to him.
"Would you like a drink?"
Beads of sweat were clustered over his forehead, and his wrists gleamed with it. Giving her a doubtful, almost suspicious look, he took it.
And so it began. He looked into her eyes, and murmured, taking her quivering, wrangled hands into his own smooth ones:
"Run away with me?"
And she had nodded, and done it. And she did the same when, after a sip of wine at the dinner table, he proposed.
But even though her heart fluttered at his every word, at the incessant doting, the shower of kisses, Merope could see that there was something mechanical there. That when he gazed lovingly at her, it was a dim, dazed look.
The look of someone oblivious. Someone with only the passion of the drops of potion they were fed, not coupled with that which she pleaded would flare inside of him.
As time passed, as they tumbled in her satin sheets, as the pallid skin of her stomach slowly rounded, the echo of a baby pressing into her, she convinced herself it was there. That his words were full of willingness, sincerity. She was imagining things.
And yet she continued to slip the potion into his morning coffee, his evening firewhisky.
But only to humor her doubts. Really.
But it clawed through her, nipping at her gut.
It was an old saying. If you love someone, set them free, and if they don't come back, they were never yours to begin with.
But Merope Gaunt begged to differ. Her love was enough; her love could sustain them both, certainly. That saying was for those shackled to a feeble love, intoxicated by promises of freedom.
Maybe it had been enough. Maybe the potion had simply triggered something in Tom that had been there, waiting, all along.
And so, maybes floating around her head, she let her tiny, frail feet lead her towards her husband's chair, her robe swishing ominously as it crumpled with every step. Her ankles trembled as she reached him, and reached out to press her stubby, sallow fingers to his gaunt cheekbone.
A salty tear soared over her sunken cheeks, toppling over her dark lips as they opened to speak.
And speak she did. Her stammering, squeaky voice wove a glossy web of tears, of whispers of her sorrows and affections, of how deep her love flowed. She was poised to wrap it around him, to tell her she acted in the right, to tell her, in that low, poignant tone, laced with honey:
"I love you."
But this time, he didn't say it. The words that she was pleading to fall out of his mouth didn't come.
Instead, her tremulous life, with seams of bewitchment and unrequited love, collapsed around her, leaving her in the ruins of a not-quite-perfect world, as, for the last time, she watched her Tom ride away.
And this time, he took her heart with her, and never returned.