Merope didn't have many memories of her mother. She remembered a small woman with a small, concise face and scraggy dark brown hair that was hopelessly tangled. And her hands. She had had very long, very thin, very pale fingers. She remembered her mother scolding her father, who seemed to be a little afraid of her. Madeline Gaunt had always been a more powerful witch than her husband.
But memories of softness, and love, and kindness, she had none. Her mother seemed to have ignored her all through her childhood. Merope did have one clear memory of interaction with her mother, though. She was six years old, and it had been a relatively happy family evening. It was Morfin's fourth birthday, and to celebrate her mother had made a birthday meal for everyone. A thick rabbit stew, with a small chocolate cake for after. Her mother had even found a couple of old wax candles, and had stuck them to the worn wooden table for the occasion. The four of them had sat around the table and eaten their food, for once at peace with each other. They had one cup left – all the others had been smashed some time in the past. Her father had sole possession of this cup, so Merope, her mother and Morfin passed around the bottle of firewhisky during the meal. Morfin had before only drunk milk or water, but his father had decided it was high time he was introduced to alcohol.
After the rabbit stew had been eaten, and the chocolate cake was being passed around, Merope's mother suddenly decided she wanted something . "Merope," she said, delicately holding a piece of cake in her white hand, "go and fetch me my comb. It is in the third drawer down in my wardrobe, and is made of bone."
Merope dutifully nodded and dropped off her chair, too high for her small legs. She had only twice been in her parents bedroom before, and that had been so long ago she could hardly remember. The room was taken up by the double bed that stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by makeshift shelves, mostly made of planks balanced on square stones. But directly in front of the bed was a huge, imposing cabinet, of shiny mahogany.
Merope tiptoed up to it and opened it, finding that it was split in half. Half was an open space filled with hung up clothes, the other was five drawers. Merope slid open the third drawer and found a mess of items. She poked through the thick metal rings, the tiny animal skulls, the black feathers, trying to find the bone comb, but to no avail. She began to look through the clothes in the hanging space. She was surprised that her mother owned such beautiful clothes – dresses made of thick purple velvet, lacy gloves, strange black shoes with complicated clasps. Without thinking what she was doing, she picked up a pair of heeled leather boots from the bottom of the wardrobe, and slipped her small, bare feet into them.
They were ridiculously big for her, but Merope loved the feeling of wearing grown up shoes. She tottered around the room and admired her reflection in the cracked mirror hanging on the wall.
She turned around to see her mother standing at the door and faltered, the smile fading from her face.
"Remove those from your feet and put them back where you found them." Merope's mother said, icily. Merope quickly obeyed, not looking at her.
Once the shoes were safely back in the wardrobe with the door closed Merope's mother spoke again. "Now. What did I ask you to do?"
"To get your comb." Merope mumbled, staring at the floor.
"And what did you do instead?"
"I… I tried on your shoes."
Merope's mother steepled her fingers. "And why did you do this?"
"I… I don't know. I'm really sorry!"
"Look at me when I am speaking to you!" Merope's mother suddenly spat out in Parselmouth, and Merope snapped her head up from where she had been staring at the floor.
"You disgrace! You thief!" Her mother shrieked, pointing her wand at Merope. "Crucio! Crucio! Crucio!" Merope dropped to the floor, her eyes squeezed tightly shut, screaming and screaming as her mother kept on cursing her. With each word a fresh wave of pain swept over her small body. She was dimly aware of blood trickling out of her nose.
Then suddenly, the pain stopped, and Merope was left lying on the floor of her parents' bedroom, curled up, her eyes shut. Her mother left the room to return to her husband and son, happily eating the remains of the chocolate cake.
That was Merope's clearest memory of her mother, apart from her death two years later. She was eight, and Morfin was six. It was late at night and she and her brother were asleep on the lumpy mattress they shared, next to the fire.
Merope was woken up by the latch on the door. She was a light sleeper, and things most people would sleep straight through woke her up. Pulling the blankets closer around her to keep warm, she watched her parents enter the room from outside.
They were laughing together, and Merope could smell the familiar stink of alcohol, especially on her father. "Right in the eyes!" her mother crowed. "Right in his filthy Mudblood eyes!"
"Let's hope they shtay broken!" her father agreed.
Her mother cackled. "For his sake, I hope so! How revolting to have to look in the mirror every day, and see that filthy face!"
Her father stopped. "What? For his sake? Are you mad, woman? Are you shaying you were trying to help him when you got him?"
Her mother slapped him across the face. "Marvolo, you have obviously drunk far too much if you think I would ever do anything to benefit one of them. You know how I despise them. I was being ironic, something that I do not suppose you will ever understand."
Merope's father turned on her mother savagely, and he slipped into Parselmouth. "How dare you hit me, you mad woman!" he hissed, taking her by the shoulders and shaking her.
She viciously bared her teeth. "You are a disgrace to yourself! I would suppose even a filthy Muggle would have a better hold on themselves than you do!"
Merope's father roared with rage and threw his wife hard onto the stone floor. "Oh, is that the best you can do?" she yelled, her skirts drawn up around her knees. "You pathetic excuse for a wizard –"
"Avada Kedavra!" shouted her father, waving his wand clumsily in front of him. There was a flash of green light, and Merope's mother fell still, lying dead on the stone floor.
There was silence. Absolute silence. Merope, lying in the corner, was afraid to breathe in case her father heard her and noticed her.
Shaking slightly, she watched her father slowly sit down at the table, his back to the body of his wife. He took a small bottle from his jacket pocket and swigged it. He put his head in his hands. Then he stood up and went to his bedroom, leaving Merope and the sleeping Morfin alone with their dead mother.
Merope could hardly breathe. The dark room swam before her as her eyes filled with tears. Next to her, Morfin shifted in his sleep. Merope clutched onto him, burying her face in his hair.
Their father didn't emerge the next morning, and Merope began to worry that he had killed himself as well. She was too afraid to go and look in his room. Instead, she picked herself out of the bed and went to make some breakfast. She wasn't tall enough to reach the cupboards, but found some bread on the sideboard, and some dripping in a jar. She found a knife and managed to slice off three uneven chunks of bread, then spread some dripping on each one.
She took two back to the bed and left the other on the sideboard, in the event that her father was still alive and hungry. Morfin had woken up by now and had watched her getting the bread.
"Thankyou." he hissed as Merope gave him a slice of bread. Morfin had always found normal speech hard due to a mutation in his tongue, so he always used Parselmouth. If it hadn't been so easy simply to speak in Parselmouth, Merope was sure he could managed to talk normally but a lack of practise meant that Morfin could not communicate with anyone except his family. Not that there was anyone else.
They lived alone for the next two days, Merope always making enough food for three people in case her father was alive, although she was losing hope that he was. She tried not to look at her mother, lying motionless on the floor and starting to smell.
On the third day, Merope's father finally emerged from his bedroom. He looked thin and his eyes were horribly bloodshot. He walked in on his two children eating boiled potatoes together at the table. He looked around madly then cast a questioning look on Merope. She bowed her head and pointed to the sideboard, where the potatoes she had prepared for her father sat.
They lived like this for about a week, Merope clumsily preparing food, standing on chairs in order to reach the cupboards. Her mother still lied on the floor, the smell of decaying flesh becoming more and more poignant by day. Flies were beginning to land on her wide, unseeing eyes.
Eventually Merope realised that her father wasn't going to do anything about it, so she decided, with some revulsion, that it was up to her. Her father was in his room, and Morfin was sitting on their bed watching her. She took hold of her mother's long dark hair and dragged her outside. Morfin watched her drag his mother through the door, the heels of her shoes rubbing against the floor.
The hair Merope was holding suddenly came out in her hand, a whole chunk of hair. Merope gasped in shock, then, blinking back tears, took hold of another chunk until that came out too. Her third handful of hair broke off about a hundred feet from the shack, which Merope decided was far enough. It seemed quite peaceful there, anyway, not too far away from a gently bubbling stream, shaded by trees. She just hoped no filthy, prying Muggles found her.