Boy Who Lived
Not even the birth of her son could compel Merope to continue living after her husband's abandonment, but the green-eyed stranger sitting by her deathbed, cradling her squalling babe, proves to be an unexpected savior. Time Travel. Harry Potter x Merope Gaunt
A few important notes before we begin: When I started this story, I intended for it to be a oneshot. When I passed the 15,000 word mark, I knew I would have to post it in sections (because this is fanfiction and posting it all in one go would mean fewer reviews, and I love reviews). As such, please forgive me if chapters start or end abruptly; they're part of a whole; and I'll try to make the transitions as smooth as I can. This story begins Merope and Harry-centric, but migrates toward Tom and Harry as the story progresses. Don't expect an angelic, lovely Tom; just because he has parents doesn't mean that he isn't prone to screwing up or having serious emotional issues. People will die. ... Eventually.
Soundtrack for this fic:
Beat of Your Heart—Hayley Westenra
Forever My Father—Go Radio
Feels Like Home—Chantal Kreviazuk
Campanella~Piano Arrangement—Megpoid Gumi (Vocaloid)
Part 1—Meet Mr. Wright
"I hope he looks like his papa."
The orphanage matron gave her a pitying look, but she ignored the older woman's glance, staring watery-eyed at the white washed ceiling. Another contraction wracked her frame and she moaned despairingly as the matron called for her to "Push, push, push, Missus, push!" at the babe that was so eagerly trying to escape her womb. Her emaciated fingers clawed at the clean white bed sheets, and she wished that she had the warm hand of her husband to grip onto instead.
But her husband was gone, fled from her, and she knew it her heart of hearts that he was not going to burst through the doors of the orphanage and rush to her side with love in his eyes.
"Get more towels, Cole!" the matron exclaimed. "The child is crowning!"
She sucked in heavy breath, her brow slicked with perspiration, flesh pale. Her insides had torn with the coming of her child; slowly, steadily, she was bleeding out. Her will to live was feeble as it was; she closed her eyes against the bright light bulbs above her head.
She knew her birthing table would be her deathbed.
"Push, Missus! Push!"
She did so, and cried out against the hot, wet pain that centered on her groin as her insides stretched and tore.
"It's almost out, Missus! One more! Just one more push, alright?"
Her breath was shaky, and her entire body trembled, but she nodded and as the next contraction knotted her abdomen she pushed, hard, and screamed. The child was expelled from her body with a rush of amniotic fluid and blood.
"A boy! Missus, the good Lord has given you a son," said the matron.
She couldn't see the child from her current position, but she could hear the slap of flesh followed by its piercing, healthy cry. She fought to catch her breath as the pulpy after-birth passed and the matron fumbled to try and stem her bleeding. But the wound refused to clot, blood thinned from poverty and narrow heritage. She closed her eyes and shivered. If she were in the presence of witches, she knew she might survive; alas, she wasn't, and she wasn't confident that she wanted to.
What could she do for her son? She had nothing to offer, no home, no money, her only heirloom sold and gone, heartbroken and homeless. She would not go back to the empty shack where she was born and raised; her father would kill her child as soon as he knew who fathered it, the moment he whiffed its impure blood. No, she had nothing, could provide nothing, and it would surely be better for her child if she died here and he was raised in the orphanage.
"Sir, you can't come in here! Sir!"
"I'm sorry, Miss—Cole, wasn't it?—but this can't wait—"
Her heavy eyelids fluttered open, her heart swelling with astonished hope. Could it be? Could her husband really be—?
But no, the dark-haired man that pushed his way through the doorway was not her beloved, though he was attractive and well dressed. His green eyes fell upon her pathetic form and lit up with recognition and something she couldn't name. The matron rose, shrieking child wrapped tightly in a threadbare blanket.
The matron's assistant, young Miss Cole, appeared from behind the man, cheeks flushed. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Wool, he was very insistent."
Mrs. Wool nodded sharply. "Can I help you, sir?"
His bespectacled eyes flickered over to her, but his attention remained on the bedridden woman.
"Yes, I'm here for Mrs. Riddle. I'm a former neighbor. I've been looking for her for some time." His eyes focused back on said woman, his expression softening as he moved to her bedside. "You were difficult to find, Merope."
She frowned, puzzled. Who was this man? He was certainly not a former neighbor, as he claimed. She would have remembered, she was sure. He slipped his large, warm hand into her small, cold one, and she was bewildered and only her exhaustion prevented her from flinching when she felt his mind brush gently against her own.
'I'm here to help. Please, play along.'
A wizard, then; what did he want, she wondered?
"M-Mister Wright…" she breathed out loud. The matron and her assistant visibly relaxed.
He smiled at her and turned to the other two women, his round glasses flashing at the change of angle in the light. "Might we have a few moments of privacy, Mrs. Wool, Miss Cole?"
The graying woman nodded. "Of course, sir. Er, the child—"
"I'll take him." The man said, letting go of Merope's hand to extend his arms.
Awkwardly, Mrs. Wool settled the whimpering infant into the man's arms, whispering something Merope couldn't hear. The man's eyes hardened and he dismissed the woman with a sharp toss of his head. The door clicked shut behind her.
Merope watched as he pulled the room's only chair to her bedside and sat in it, rocking the newborn in his arms. He only had eyes for her, however, only sparing the babe an unreadable glance.
"Sir, I—" She swallowed, throat dry. "What did the matron say to you?"
He tilted his head. "Mrs. Wool believes that you are going to die." He admitted without hesitation. "She isn't wrong, is she?" It wasn't a question so much as it was a statement. Hearing it out loud, however, somehow made her dire situation more real, and she trembled. He leaned forward, drawing his face closer to hers. "Merope, I need you to live."
She blinked. "Sir?"
His eyes were large through his glasses, and as green as anything she'd ever seen. He couldn't have been much older than her 19 years. "My name is Harry James Potter. I am a wizard, Merope; you can speak freely with me. I can save your life, but only if you can muster up the will. You need to live, for your son."
"I don't understand."
His voice was gentle, but firm, his accent a bit strange, almost lazy. "I know, and I know you feel you have nothing to live for now that your husband has abandoned you. Please understand that I can't tell you everything right now, but your son needs you. He needs his mother."
She bit her lip, wishing she had the strength to shake her head. "I'm sure the matron can—"
"No." The man said stiffly. "It is you he needs. No other." He held the child out to her. The babe had at last quieted, his face scarlet, dark eyes blue as all newborns' eyes were. She lifted her hand to rest her fingers upon his hot, soft cheek, and she trembled, tears tricking down her temples.
"Tom." She sobbed. "I have nothing. Nowhere to go…"
"You will live with me." He again interrupted.
She stared at him, speechless, for several moments. Then, finally, "Why?" Her voice cracked. "We are complete strangers. I don't understand."
He lifted his hand and brushed her limp hair from her forehead, a simple act so tender and gentle that tears rose anew in her skewed eyes. She noticed that a strange scar marred his own forehead, and she wondered how he received it.
"Because your son needs you. And I am lonely and plenty capable of providing for the both of you."
Her son. He knew something about her son, and that something, whatever it was, was behind his motivations. What was so special about her son? Was it her blood—Salazar Slytherin's blood, Cadmus Peverell's blood—that spurred this on, or something else? Who was Harry Potter?
"Merope," he pressed softly, speaking her name as if it carried a terrible weight, and she heard all that he did not repeat. He waited for her answer.
More tears escaped and she nodded her head, closing her eyes so that she did not have to look at either Harry or her son any longer. The child's weight settled by her head and Harry withdrew a vial from the pocket of his trousers and put it to her thin lips.
She recognized the brew at once as a Blood Replenishing Elixir and swallowed reflexively. Almost immediately she felt vitality filling her body again, her waxen cheeks regaining their color. But she still bled from the womb, and when Harry stood she opened her eyes to see his cheeks flushed red as he moved to her feet.
"Forgive me, I need to heal your-your…" he coughed, blushing.
"Okay," she rasped. He looked especially young when he was embarrassed, she thought. She was too tired and pathetic to be embarrassed, and turned her eyes to her son as she felt Harry lift the skirt of her dress and press the tip of his wand to her flesh.
"Tom." She murmured to the sleeping babe. "Tom for your father, and Marvolo for my father."
Her bloodied skirts fell back into place. Harry's expression was undecipherable. He dismissed himself once newborn Tom was settled in her arms, promising to return in the morning, and Mrs. Wool and Miss Cole came back into the room and tittered over her, obviously surprised to see her condition growing better by the minute. They gossiped over her, and she was shocked to learn that Harry had donated five hundred pounds sterling to the orphanage.
Who was he to give so freely such a large sum of money, a high-ranking employee of the Ministry of Magic, perhaps, or the heir to a large fortune? He couldn't be a pureblooded wizard, not with that kind of generosity. Purebloods were never so kind, never so selfless. That would make him a muggle-born then, or a half-blood with noble, muggle ancestry. Potter was a common enough surname in the mundane world. There were no Harrys on the Wizarding Potter family tree, that much she knew, not even illegitimate ones. The Gaunts may have been destitute and racist to the extreme, but she was not completely uneducated.
He came back for her the next morning and she was ashamed to find that she had not truly expected him to keep his promise. He greeted her with a smile that made her insides flutter—she was heartbroken, but Harry was ever so handsome—and escorted her to a muggle vehicle. He did not want to risk harming her by Apparation, he said, and felt that Flooing might be too much for her recovering body. Merope enjoyed watching him drive the peculiar automobile; even when Tom had been with her, they never drove anywhere themselves. New Years Day had never been so fitting as it was now, she thought.
As promised, he answered the questions she hadn't the strength or clarity of mind to ask the night before. He didn't work in the Ministry, she found out. He was a subject of study in the Department of Mysteries. He had been displaced, he said, and couldn't be put back where he belonged, and he doubted that the Unspeakables would let him go home even if the option became available. So, Monday through Friday, he would go in to the Department and allow the Unspeakables to poke at him and experiment on him and question him and in exchange he was provided anything and everything he asked for and everything they thought he might want:
A comfortable, countryside house with a white picket fence, fine clothes, connections to both Muggle and Wizarding worlds, tickets to any sport game or theatre show he desired, the newest brooms and cars, rare books, fine foods, house elves, and so much more.
Everything but his freedom.
Despite their availability to him, he didn't keep house elves, and when she moved in it took a while for it to really sink in that he didn't expect her to cook or clean—She hadn't even known men could cook and clean for themselves. When she awoke in the mornings he would already have breakfast on the table; when her clothes hamper grew full, her skirts vanished and reappeared clean and sweet smelling in her closet.
That New Years Day when she opened her closet for the first time to put away her worn, moth-eaten robes, she found it full of beautiful dresses she felt she was too ugly for. She had cried over them, and he had simply held her in his arms and hummed to her and summoned the best doctor in the country to fix her wandering eyes—the world had never been so clear; no longer did she see things in double, though in the end she'd still needed glasses—and crooked teeth and prescribe nutrient potions—she had been malnourished and abused since childhood, not unlike himself, he told her—and sent her all the way to Paris that very weekend for an afternoon to endure the spa treatment, to get her skin and toenails and hair fixed up and painted.
She'd Flooed home dolled up and in tears, and he'd apologized on his knees for overcompensating—"I want you to be happy with me," he'd said, "But I don't know how to do anything, really, especially not how to deal with girls. I know every girl wants to be beautiful, so I thought… I thought…"—and she knelt next to him and said that it was all too much for her, the jewels, the dresses, the French fingernails. That even in her most extravagant fairytale daydreams, she had never been so lovely, so pampered, and it was just too strange.
So, he'd sent back all of her dresses and returned all of the jewels, and replaced them with ones that were more humble, but, she thought, still too gorgeous for such a woman as her. She didn't vocally complain again, but he seemed to know without her saying so and admitted that he felt the same, but that the Ministry wasn't all that willing to see him strut around in commoners' clothes, even if it was what he felt he really was.
He doted on her son, for reasons he couldn't really explain and she couldn't really understand, but when she heard little Tom cry in the middle of the night—not a particular rarity, but even to her, inexperienced as she was, she knew that her baby was abnormally quiet—Harry was never far behind her, and was sometimes at the baby's crib before her, rocking the tearful, needy infant. Though he would sometimes sigh in exasperation, he never complained about having to feed the baby or about changing his nappies or about bathing him. Her son's birth certificate read: Thomas Marvolo Riddle, instead of simply Tom. Harry had insisted, though she didn't quite understand why, but agreed that it sounded more complete that way. Stronger. Steadier. Nobler.
Merope quickly grew fond of Harry, and he of her, though at first she was wary of him and he sort of viewed her as extra baggage that came with the baby: not particularly wanted, but necessary. But, as the weeks passed, they went from awkward strangers to friends to gentle courtship. During the daylight hours when he was at the Ministry, she filled her afternoons with caring for little Thomas and learning from the tutor Harry had asked for to fill in the empty spaces in her education. She found that she loved to read, but working with her mother's wand was always nerve-wracking as it brought back memories of her father's constant criticism, his quick temper and quicker hands. Letting go of the mindset that she was not and would never be good enough was difficult.
In the evenings, he would stumble through the fireplace and immediately set to making supper. The routine helped him wind down, he said, and kept his mind from wandering to unpleasant things. Sometimes he hummed or murmured the tunes of songs she had never heard of to the pots and pans and to Tom. The food was always delicious. When Tom had been fed and burped and rocked to sleep, Harry and Merope would settle in the lounge and read or listen to the radio or talk. She told him that she was born on Saint Valentines in 1907, and he had told her that he was born on the 31st of July in 1980. She didn't press for an explanation. He had been under the thumb of the Department of Mysteries for a year and a half, already, he said, and she wondered what there could possibly be left for them to learn about him. He was a Parselmouth, but unrelated to Slytherin, she learned, and when her eyes flickered to the lightning bolt shaped scare he bore upon the revelation, he smiled grimly and commented that she was a quick learner, and that she probably would have been in Ravenclaw had she gone to Hogwarts, regardless of her ancestry. She blushed so fiercely she was sure her skin would never go back to its original color.
February 14th caught her by surprise. Though she knew it was a day for lovers as well as her birthday, it had never before been a day of particular note for her, not even during her brief time married to Tom Riddle.
Harry arrived home early, stumbling a bit as he always did when traveling by Floo. His untamable hair was a tad more wild than usual, and his smile was wide and bright. Merope was nursing Thomas, cradling him to her breast with one arm while she held an open book on her other, when Harry stepped through.
"Hey, Merope!" He greeted.
She smiled, and covered her son and exposed breast with her shawl. "Welcome home, Harry. You're back so early today."
"That's because today is a special day."
She tilted her head, puzzled. "It is?"
Harry's wide smile was replaced with a gobsmacked expression. "O-of course it is! It's your twentieth birthday!"
She blinked, lowering her book to her lap. "Yes, and? Breakfast was wonderful this morning, thank you."
His eyebrows rose and when they lowered he smiled again, this time somewhat strangely. He sat down beside her on the sofa and placed a hand over hers. "Merope, surely you don't think an especially nice breakfast is the only thing I'm going to do for you on your birthday?"
She blushed at the physical contact, meeting his green eyes with her dull, dark pair. "Um, well, I did until you said that just now."
He laughed. "Merope, I'm taking you out on the town tonight. Dinner, a film, and dancing! That's what people do, isn't it? So when you put Tommy to bed, get dressed and we'll go, alright?"
Her eyes widened to the size of galleons behind her horn-rimmed glasses. "A film?" she breathed. "Tom took me to one once, he read the text for me. It was amazing. Are we really?"
Harry's eyes sparkled. "They have films with sound now; no need for text anymore!"
"Oh my! And-and dancing? I-I… Harry, I don't know how to dance…"
"Great!" He exclaimed, "Neither do I!"
"Oh, Harry…" She lifted a trembling hand to her mouth and turned her face away. Harry Potter's kindness never failed to amaze her; never before had Merope met anyone so nice and generous. He had something of a temper, but who didn't, really? Harry's bouts of foul mood were nothing compared to the fits her father and brother would have.
"Oh, Merlin… Merope? I'm sorry, did I—? I-if you really don't want to go out that badly I can cancel the babysitter and I'll figure out something to do here at—"
"That's not it at all, Harry!" She said, turning back to him with a watery smile. "I would love to go out with you!"
He blushed to the roots of his hair, but his grin was as wide as the English Channel. "Cool!"
Merope didn't know what the word meant in that context, of course, but it was obviously good. She put away her book and put Tom to bed, kissing the babe on the forehead as he suckled his thumb. She bathed and curled her hair and shuffled through her closet—which in her opinion was still much too large and extravagant—for a dress that would be easy to move in, and she at last picked out a fashionable straight shift with an asymmetric, scalloped skirt that boldly showed her knees and bared her arms. The pinnacle of muggle fashion, it was very nearly the same shade of green as Harry's eyes. Her father would have had such a fit if he caught her wearing such a dress! Somehow that only added to its appeal. She clad her legs in honey-beige, embroidered art silk, and snapped on Mary Jane shoes. She fitted her forehead with a beaded headband. She stared at her reflection for several long minutes, wondering at herself, fingers pressed against the glass as if she might fall through and finery dissolve into the rags she wore for so long. She knew she wasn't a beautiful girl, or even pretty, and she never would be, but she had only ever felt this lovely when she had stood at the altar and married Tom Riddle. She pinched herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming. The clothes stayed right where they were and she still felt like she was pretty.
At the last moment she decided against lipstick, worried that she was too bold as it was, that her lips were too thin. Harry was chatting amiably with the babysitter—an older, graying woman named Carrie Taker—over tea when Merope came downstairs. His speech turned to stuttering when she walked into his line of sight, and he nearly dribbled tea all over his jacket and tie. Merope giggled and hid her face behind her hands, peeking out from between her fingers.
He drove them to town in what he told her was a Deusenburg Phaeton; it was painted gold and the seats and steering wheel done in red leather. His tie bore the same colors, she realized.
"You were a Griffindor, weren't you?" She said out of the blue.
He laughed and beamed at her, and she knew she had guessed correctly.
Dinner was pleasantly humble, and they enjoyed rich lamb and potatoes in an Irish pub, alternating between eager talking and awkward, blushing silences. Harry understandably was vague about some subjects, green eyes watching the other diners warily for fear that he let something slip that he shouldn't in public. The film was even better. They got to see the American film, Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood—it was almost five years old now, having been made in 1922—and Harry eyed the black-and-silver screen with interest and amused snickers while Merope "oohed" and gasped and shrieked when the hero jumped off a castle balcony and slid down a 15 ¼ meter curtain to his dashing escape, wiggling in her seat. They both wondered if the actor that played King Richard the Lion-Hearted, Wallace Beery, was related to Hogwart's current Herbology professor.
The dancing, however, was best of all, though the other dancers gave them a wide berth as Merope and Harry clopped around awful renditions of the cake walk and turkey trot and shimmy to ragtime music and young jazz. Merope's mortification at her clumsy steps was alleviated by Harry's strange ones—a stiff, puppet-like move he called "The Robot" had everyone staring at him strangely, but soon attempting to imitate it. She giggled uncontrollably when she tried to copy the limp arm movement, feeling goofy and childlike. Not a single waltz was to be had, though they sort-of slow danced to a local's renditions of "I Am Awfully Glad I Met You" and "Come Josephine," and they sipped cocktails and flirted over their olives. Merope was appalled her own boldness, but couldn't gather the sanity of mind to hold her tongue, not that Harry seemed the least bit fazed. It made her wonder what girls were like in his home time. Did he miss flirting with girls like that? Was she prude in comparison? Was she boring? Was she undesirable because she already had a child?
The moon was high when they finally stepped out for a breath of fresh air, just a bit sweaty and smiling like idiots. His fingers were entwined with hers and he seemed to have no intention of letting go any time soon. Winter was still present in the air, their breath curling visibly in the air, and when goose pimples rose on her arms he shed his jacket to place it over her bare shoulders.
"Thank you, Harry," she said shyly, leaning into his warmth.
"You're welcome, Merope."
"No, really," she insisted, "Thank you. For everything you've done. Everything. I've never had such a wonderful time. You're the nicest, kindest, most wonderful man—person—human being—that I've ever met."
He flushed, looking very, very uncomfortable, and stuttered for several moments, trying and failing to accept her thanks and insist his selfishness at the same time. He was even less accustomed the compliments than she was, it seemed; she, at least, had her time with Tom to get her used to being complimented, even if it had all blown up in her face in the end.
"Merope, I'm sorry, but I've got to tell you something," Harry said, pulling her out of her thoughts. She looked up at him questioningly. "I told you that all I had planned was dinner, a movie, and dancing, but I actually have one more birthday present for you."
She felt exhausted at the very thought! He had given her so much already; she didn't need anything else!
"What?" She asked.
He leaned down to whisper in her ear. "Check the pockets of my jacket." She shivered at his breath, but obliged him. Her fingers closed around something textured—beaded, she decided—and cool. Pulling it out, she found herself holding a long, stylish necklace. It consisted of several strands of big, white and pale gold pearls, in the middle of which hung…
Tears rushed to her eyes, prickling and overflowing before she could stop them. Harry reached out to hold the necklace at length, displaying at eye-level the gold, emerald-studded locket at its center.
"My locket…" she managed before her throat closed completely.
"Mister Borgin was… extremely reluctant to part with it," Harry said, "But as it is an artifact of one of Hogwart's Founders, there really wasn't much he could do, legally, to keep it once he had Unspeakables pounding on his door. I had to 'tip' him most generously, anyway, and I still doubt that I'll ever be welcome in his shop ever again; he'd curse me when my back was turned. After that, it was simple enough to get it put on a string."
He moved slightly, gesturing that he intended to clasp it around her neck, and she compliantly lifted away her perm so that his fingers could flit across the nape of her neck. The locket settled heavy and familiar against her sternum, and she held it tightly in her fist, knuckles ashen, palm aching. His hands lingered just a bit longer than appropriate, one of his hands darting up to touch her hand that held up her hair and the other trailing along her too-sharp jaw line to wipe at the stream of tears dripping from her chin.
"Please, don't cry. I've never been good at dealing with crying girls…"
Maybe it was the alcohol or the emotional upheaval, or maybe she couldn't tolerate his kindness any longer, or maybe it was a combination of all three, but her control finally snapped and she spun around to face him and pressed her mouth firmly against his, hands flying up to hold his head in place. Her aim was off by a few centimeters, but that was remedied quickly enough and once he had recovered from his shock and teetering balance—she had nearly knocked him onto his bum—he slipped his arms around her long waist and kissed her back. It didn't last particularly long, nor was it especially passionate, and it was far too wet, but when their kiss broke and they came up for air, she exclaimed the most romantic thing Harry had heard to date:
"I want a divorce!"
To Be Continued... (can you tell that I love the 1920's?)