It began as a day like any other, the day that Marvolo Gaunt began his sentence at Azkaban. The icy surf gnawed on the shores of the island and the tide, thick with black sand and seaweed, came in an out as it had since time forgotten. The demeanors wafted to and fro, and Harold DeWeab, the lone human jailer, shivered in his chair just off the entrance hall as the gates shuttered with a knock, signaling the arrival of a new convict.
Harold's face twisted into a smile as he heaved his creaking bones out of the chair and lurched over to the gates, opening the many locks with a ring of keys chained to his wrist. He nodded to the prisoner's escorts and seized the inmate by his collar and pulled him inside. Imagine Harold's surprise when-
"Watch your hands, Mudblood! This shirt's jacquard silk, all the way from Marseille-du-Rhone- OOOF!"
The prisoner got no further; Harold's knuckles collided with the wrinkled man's nose. The complaints about touching the shirt ceased, and the moans about the nightmare of getting blood out of jacquard silk began.
Harold peered at this new addition to his collection. Then he waved over two dementors and stalked away to retrieve the man's information. (Prisoner 1823-B: Marvolo Gaunt. 69. Assault on Ministry of Magic officials, as sentence of six months.)
Harold smiled a nasty smile and shook his head. The man wouldn't last half his sentence. He made a mental note to preemptively set aside a grave in the crypt and made his way back to Marvolo to drag him up, and up the stairs to his cell.
The days passed. The freezing waves beat against the island. The prisoners shrieked and the dementors wafted. And Marvolo Gaunt… horded spoons? Was found in possession of a rather essential button from Harold's breeches? He collected these things (and more besides) and treasured them, counting and recounting his belongings, whispering to them through the night and day with singular attention that Harold had never seen nor imagined.
Harold sat in his chair and frowned. And stopped sending spoons with Gaunt's gruel.
As if Gaunt had not already caused enough of a disruption to the usually peaceful similarity of Harold's days at Azkaban, his presence brought yet another nasty surprise. A visitor. A lady. (Hesper Black. 54. Cleared for audience with Prisoner 1823-B: Marvolo Gaunt.)
Her heels clicked on the hard stone floors an echoed off the low ceilings. Her silver hair was piled on her head in a perfect asymmetric knot. Her skirts swished, and when she addressed Harold she lifted an absurd lace handkerchief to her nose. The tendons in her neck writhed, as if it was a trying ordeal just to speak, and they disturbed the black silk ribbon tying an enormous brooch to her frail neck.
Harold growled a greeting and rattled his keys as he removed them from his pocket. He resisted the urge to strangle the woman by her very own back silk ribbon (was it jacquard silk?) and lead her up, and up the stairs.
The door to Marvolo's cell opened with a whine and closed with a dull clank. Hesper squinted at the darkness and raised her handkerchief (determined this time to never lower it). "Mr. Gaunt?"
A bundle in the farthest corner of the cell stirred and then hissed. And to her immense surprise, it took form: a haggard old man, emaciated but still broad shouldered and long-limbed, the shrunken face hardly recognizable as that of her worthy pureblood cousin.
"Pretty, pretty…" said the man, his eyes oddly fixed on her, but not on her eyes: on her neck. "Been in the family for years, great treasure, all the way from central… central…" he scrunched up his eyes as if in pain and then screamed- the first sound from Gaunt's cell that did not horrify Harold.
Taken aback, Hesper Black tried to focus the creature before her. She disdainfully removed the bit of lace from her nose in the hopes he would recognize her. "Mr. Gaunt. It's Hesper Black, your cousin."
"Black…" he said slowly. His bloodshot eyes wandered to hers. "Mrs. Black," he said in his amiable voice of old, "how lovely that you could join me this evening."
Hesper gave a quick nod, almost as unsettled by his sudden show of civility as she had been by his initial savagery. "I've come to talk about your son, Morfin, and my daugh-"
"Good boy," Marvolo said to no one in particular, "good heir. Good to carry on the line. Knows the power of blood, that boy, he does…"
"Blood, that's the thing," Hesper said, seizing the opportunity. "I've come to talk about-"
"He'll have my things when I'm gone, you know," Marvolo continued, his eyes wandering to the treasure trove he guarded in the corner of the cell. "My gold, and my jewels. The family heirlooms, he'll have them all." (My button, my spoons.)
"And he'll guard them well," Hesper comforted. "But to do so, he'll need a wife."
"A PUREBLOOD WITCH!" screeched Marvolo, turning on her, eyes bulging.
Any other woman might have drawn back at the snap of Marvolo's teeth inches from her face (Hesper knew more of insanity than other women). She merely smiled. "Yes," she said, comfortingly, "and I have just the one. Lycoris, my daughter."
"Daughter…" Marvolo frowned at the word and said it again. "Daughter," he spat.
"You see, Marvolo, I am old and I do not have long to live," the striking witch said, leaning toward the squalid old man. "I wish to ensure a suitable match for my daughter."
"Suitable match." Marvolo frowned at the words. Then his eyes cleared and they fixed on Hesper. "And what will you give me?" he growled, standing at his full height for the first time.
"What will you give me!" He screamed, advancing on her until her back was against the cell door. The perfection of the elegant silver knot of hair was disturbed as it snarled on the splintered wood. His fingers reached out for the brooch dangling from her neck. He was green with envy, the promise of a new treasure guiding his fingertips…
"My mother's brooch? Lycoris will have it anyway soon enough."
"Give it to me," Marvolo whispered in her ear, his fingers wrapped around the band of black silk.
Hesper pursed her lips, annoyed more at his smell than at the loss of her heirloom. "Take it."
With a snap the ribbon broke and the brooch was clasped in his grimy fist. (She took a moment to slip her rings into a pocket.)
The man scampered to his corner, and the woman's handkerchief made another appearance.
"You'll tell your son, then?" She said. He grunted. In agreement? Confusion? (Anger?) "Once you are both home, safe, it will take just a word from you to inform your son of his engagement-"
A growl stopped her. He approached her again, and this time no number of spoons in the corner could convince Hesper that this man was not dangerous. "What is young and beautiful and disobedient?" His voice was low and precise, and she shivered under her layers of robes. "What is a disgrace, a traitor, a squib!"
In a voice that trembled with the slightest hint of anxiety, Hesper replied, "Why do you ask me this riddle?"
"RIDDLE!" He screamed, slamming her against the wall and covering her mouth with both of his filthy hands. "DO NOT SPEAK TO ME ABOUT RIDDLE! My lying, pathetic daughter and that muggle! (Why doesn't she listen when I announce her engagement?) Get out! GET OUT!"
He slammed his fists against the dungeon door until Harold came back, bristling with keys and beaming with pleasure at the screams of his annoyingly quiet inmate. Another whine and a clang and Hesper Black was out of the cell. Another click of her heel for every stair as they went down and down, and Hesper Black was deposited outside on the black, cold beach, the gates shutting behind her (her mother's brooch left in the hands of her cousin).
The woman never returned, and Harold never left. He sat in his chair and listened to the sounds of the prison. The wind howled through the cracks in the gate, the prisoners wailed, and Harold prepared a grave for Marvolo Gaunt.
The weeks and months went by and the grave remained open. Finally a knock on the gate came and two escorts arrived- without a convict. Harold walked them up, and up the stairs, and opened the cell door… and to his eternal horror Marvolo Gaunt was there, alive. His treasures were nowhere to be seen, but he was clutching the remnants of his jacquard silk shirt to his side (as if cradling a bundle to his chest).
Marvolo Gaunt left that day, and Harold's life returned to its peaceful routine. The sea was stormy, the dementors patrolled, and the visitors were exclusively male. The inmates screamed after eating their gruel, and never again did one take interest in preserving a spoon.
A/N: This was written for Draco-Hermy's Pureblood Competition with the promots of "Marvolo Gaunt" and "riddle" as well as for the If You Dare... challenge for the prompt "green with envy." The Harry Potter wikia is a magical thing that can tell you which purebloods were of marriageable age in 1925.
I did beta for duskendale's "Whisper Tales of Gore" (link in my profile). She uses lots of parenthesis to great effect and I've been dying to try it out, although I didn't quite manage the mastery over them that she had. I think this is a mood piece, but I can't put my finger on what the mood is (spoons+dementors, the mood?), hence the rather confusing Horror/Humor.