The Prince and the Tramp
Summary: The first time he saw the girl, he was struck by a sudden curiosity and a bout of uneasiness. A Tom Riddle Senior/Merope Gaunt tale. One-shot.
A/N: Hi all! This is my second Harry Potter fic. Please review and tell me what you think of it!
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, they belong to J.K. Rowling.
The first time he saw the girl, he was struck by a sudden curiosity and a bout of uneasiness. He was coming home from a hunting trip with his father, the both of them in deep discussion of the game they had found in the open forests just in the outskirts of Little Hangleton. He remembered it well enough, remembered the feeling of his father coming closer to his side with his steed and patting him proudly on the back. The click clack of the horses drowned out by simple laughter and words of praise, and he remembered the feeling that such pride in him inspired. As they neared cobbled streets, there he saw an outline of a young woman tending to the plants just in front of a home he had never seen before. Odd, he mused, I know everybody in this town.
"Father," He began, and he inclined his head in the direction of the poorly structured home. "Who lives over there? I have never seen this house before."
Thomas Riddle Senior grunted, his lips curling into a sneer as his eyes landed on the house. "That would be the Gaunt property, Tom. A family possessed by the Devil himself. Don't look any longer or we might catch the eldest coming out of his hovel."
He had never known that such people lived in poverty in his town and it made Tom a little queasy at the thought. That was when the girl had chosen to look up and he nearly retched at the sight. He had never seen a woman so unkempt and untidy, so - so unclean. Her eyes widened in surprise when she realized that he'd been staring at her, and she looked away blushing. She was no distinguished beauty with her tattered dress, sallow skin and those grotesque eyes that seemed to point in different directions as if she was looking from East to West. She was positively the most hideous thing he had ever seen, certainly no competition for his lovely Cecilia.
"Tom, I told you to stop staring at that hovel. Don't pay them any attention."
He obeyed his father without question and didn't deign to give a second glance to the beastly woman with her unsightly features.
A few weeks passed since he first saw the Gaunt tramp, and he had already pushed her out of his mind. He was more preoccupied with his betrothal to Cecilia Wright. Cecilia was known as the Little Hangleton beauty with her fair complexion and flaxen hair, she possessed a gentle voice and a timid demeanour - the very picture of femininity. He loved spending every waking moment with her and he loved hearing her stories, though he considered them quite foolish and childish. Cecilia loved to tell fairy tales, stories of little children defeating evil witches and the love between a prince and a servant.
"Ah, you will make the most excellent mother to our children, dear Cecilia," He told her one day as they rode their horses back into Little Hangleton.
She laughed in response, and he noted that it sounded quite pleasant to his ears. It was also genuine and not the nervous twittering of so many females he encountered.
When the Gaunt hovel came into near view, Cecilia voiced her displeasure of the sight. He could not fault her such thinking as he had been subject to it when he first came upon the impoverished home. If it could even be called a home.
"Don't look at it, darling," He merely told her, keeping his voice crisp and firm, but he could feel eyes staring at the back of his head. When he had first heard of the rumours in the village and the stories that his neighbours enthusiastically narrated, he felt pity for the state that the Gaunt girl lived in. Her father and brother were maniacs that drove villagers away, but the girl seemed a decent sort - a trifle hideous, surely, but maybe God's good graces must not have been given to her at birth, an obvious punishment for the snake-whispering brother and the mad father that yelled at every man who would pass by the hovel. He had never encountered such an exchange and he would be glad to have it just the same right now, as he was with the delicate Cecilia and could not bear it if any harm came upon his betrothed.
Still, there seemed to be someone burning a hole at the back of his head and he became too nervous to even turn around and glimpse the source of his discomfort. It was the same uneasiness he had felt when he first saw her; and he didn't have any need to relive the awful feeling again.
After a fortnight, an argument with his father drove him to take a ride to clear his mind and calm his unsettled nerves. As always, he had to pass by the cobbled streets of the Gaunt home in order to get to the other side of his town and was surprised to see the girl standing outside, holding a glass of liquid in her hands. She gave him what she must have thought was a radiant and kind smile, but it only came out thin and clashed horribly with her wandering eyes.
Dear God, what could she possibly want? He thought to himself, trying to appear aloof and calm. He was of higher stature and she was the impoverished tramp that came from that mad family, he had no need for such fears.
"I saw you coming up the streets, sir, and thought you looked parched from your trip," She raised the glass towards him and he was tempted not to have anything to do with it and run away.
He was raised to be the better though, and he thought that the girl would have no intention of poisoning him. He had never even spoken to her before. Besides, he thought as he took the glass from her hands, she must want some money and it would be good to practice some charity.
"Thank you kindly, er, Miss Gaunt, is it?" He gave her a nervous smile when she nodded and drank from the glass. He noted an odd taste in the concoction, something bitter but it smelled so sweet, like the perfume that Cecilia wore which he thought odd for a drink. When he finished the drink, he looked at the Gaunt girl and was struck by how the sunlight hit her brown hair.
"You look…you look positively radiant," He whispered in near awe as he took in her beauty. How had he not noticed this before? This was the girl whom he had feared? Why, if only he could slap himself silly, thinking of such ridiculous notions.
She smiled, and gave a curt nod, a blush straining her cheeks. She looked away, almost ashamedly and responded in a small voice. "Thank you."
"I…" He suddenly remembered that he had to get back into town by nightfall, and it wouldn't do for his father to become even more enraged with him. One argument was enough and he was in no condition to start another. But he simply must know her name, and so he inquired it of her with a stutter that made him sound like some silly schoolboy. He hoped she did not notice.
Merope, he thought with a fond smile as he lay in his bed late in the night. What an exquisite creature, that Merope. Why had he been so blind to her before? It was as if a thick veil had been lifted from his head and things that had been blurry and clouded became clear and crisp as day. This feeling that she inspired in him, it was unlike anything he had ever felt before. Not even for Cecilia.
Oh, Cecilia, he frowned when his thoughts began to wander to her. Oh dear Cecilia, how will she take it?
He could not continue with that charade of an engagement anymore, not when he had found the true woman whom he would spend the rest of his life with. It was impossible to be away from her, for she invaded his every thought and every dream was filled with the happiness he felt as he and Merope married and had children. His dreams no longer featured Cecilia in them, she no longer had a place in his heart anymore. It was confusing; how sudden and intoxicating this feeling for the Gaunt girl had become. Why had he not felt such feelings for Cecilia before?
He could not think, he could just feel and being without Merope felt like torture, like living without an arm or a leg. Like living with his heart so far away, but he could not reach for it no matter how hard he tried.
He began to visit her in secret, and at first he had been appalled at the conditions that she lived in, the inside of the hovel was just as unsightly as the view from the outside. To think that his poor dear lived in such squalor and poverty, it was unbearable for him to even think of it. Then when she began to tell him of the beatings that she received from her father and brother, the rage he felt was unparalleled. That family of hers did not deserve her, and he could not stand idly by and watch as she wallowed in a pit of despair and hopelessness.
So they both eloped.
He never explained it to Cecilia or told his mother and father, but he had done what he knew in his heart was right. What he thought was best for the woman he had grown to love. They married quickly, and the only witnesses were a priest and a servant whom he had sworn to secrecy.
"Are you sure about this?" She asked excitedly as they boarded the carriage that would give her a future and a life outside of family legacies and broken homes.
Tom smiled at his new wife. "Of course I am. You are my wife now, and any wife of mine will not be allowed to live in a disgusting hovel like that!"
When she smiled, he no longer felt the need to run from the sight like a coward and it felt oddly liberating. They both left Little Hangleton with nary a second glance.
They started their new life together in a humble home on the open countryside. It wasn't what he was used to, but Tom Riddle could endure anything for his beloved and it was a sight better than that horrible home that she had grown up in. Everyday he grew fonder of her, and everyday she brewed him his special tea with the familiar odd bitter taste. He never complained though, because he felt such bliss after drinking her teas and peace when they would cuddle together in bed.
She was with child when she began to give him less of those brewed teas, and he found that he somewhat missed it.
He woke up one morning in terror, as if awakening from a horrific nightmare that he had been living in for the past few years. The knowledge that it was all real; that he had abandoned his family and his betrothed at Little Hangleton made him cry out in despair.
"Tom, Tom, darling, what's wrong?" The monster herself had awoken from beside him and began to wrap her arms around his waist.
He saw her hideous face and he screamed. She had just been so beautiful to him. Where was her beauty? Where were all the things he loved about her?
"Tom?" She looked pale and sickly, and desperate tried to grab his arm. "Tom?"
"You…you…" He had no words for this. He had no words for such…such a betrayal, for such lies. "You tricked me!"
"Tom, please, calm down," She pleaded, tears running down her abnormal eyes.
"No," His voice was a mere whisper, but it sounded so lost and confused. He had loved her with every fibre of his being, did he not?
He spent the entire morning packing and the entire morning ignoring her pleas. He had to go back to his parents, to his family and his life. A life that she took from him - he had been hoodwinked, he had been lied to and cheated. Why would she do this?
"Please think of our child!" A gasp and a scream bubbled out from her throat as she tried to grab his arm.
He could not stand the thought of her touching him and his stomach rumbled with nausea as memories of her sighs, her moans and of pleasures forbidden came to him in an instant.
He left her screaming and crying his name, that bulge in her stomach the only memory of the time they had spent together. He came home to a cold reception, and the relationship that he had with his father was now cold and lukewarm, at best. Former feelings of fatherly pride dissolved within an instant and it left Tom even lonelier than he ever thought possible. With a sinking heart, he thought of the bulge in Merope's stomach and wondered what had become of the child. He was too scared to look for them, too scared to face the betrayer who had robbed him of his will and his body, and so he let the question hang in the air for the longest time.
Cecilia had moved on and married a wealthy banker instead. He was happy for her, but he couldn't help think of the hopes he had for the both of them before…before…everything.
He became a recluse and stayed with his parents, too afraid to venture out into the cobbled streets that he had once freely traveled. It brought nothing but pain and confusion, so he only restricted himself to his side of the town, enduring the inquiring stares of his neighbours and villagers.
As he looked back at these memories, he realized that it had been years since he had seen Merope or…or the child that was his. He swallowed the lump that formed in his throat. He never loved her, and all that happiness had been a lie, the child was conceived out of…out of trickery and deceit. He just couldn't face them both, and he still had no strength to do so even today.
"Madam, sirs," A servant came inside the room, head bowed, with a stranger behind her. It was a boy, pale and dark haired, his clothes were tidy and pristine. "You have a visitor."
The servant then left.
His parents looked at the boy in curiosity and so did he.
"Well, what's your name, lad?" Thomas Riddle asked, as he flicked his cigar ashes into the tray.
"Tom," The boy replied with a smile that looked dashing on him. The pale complexion and his dark hair, they look so...familiar. His hands shook as he felt a sudden jolt of realization and his expression suddenly turned into one of astonishment as the boy continued his introduction. "Tom Riddle."