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Riddle Manor (Merope Gaunt x Tom Riddle Sr) (1/1)
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Title: 22
Author: dark_baudelaire
Fandom: Harry Potter
Characters/Pairings: Merope Gaunt x Tom Riddle, Original Female Character(s) , Original Male Character(s)
Rating: T
Word Count: 9,000 +
Summary: Tom was perfect. He was the lone brilliant star shining in the night sky, always just out of Merope's reach. On the rare times he had seen her, he had an expression on his face that Merope knew was a mixture of repulsion and pity. To Tom, she was simply the old tramp’s daughter. The noble house of Salazar Slytherin and her being pureblood would mean nothing to him...

A/N: So I was reading through some wonderful Merope/Tom stories and I wished there were more, and so I thought I should make one as well. This ended up being quite a long oneshot, to my surprise. I was inspired by Downton Abbey when writing this. Also, I hope Merope and Tom are not too OOC...

DISCLAIMER: J.K. Rowling owns all, I’m just a fan of her books and their movie adaptations.

It was a warm, bright and sunny day in the village of Little Hangleton. Just on the outskirts of the village lay the rundown cottage where Merope Gaunt had once lived in misery with her father and her brother. The cottage was now vacant. Merope’s father was dead now, and her brother was locked away in Askaban. She grieved for their loss, but at the same time she felt so much freer. Her father had called her a disgusting little Squib, but the truth was that his and her brother’s physical and mental abuse had suppressed her magical abilities. After she was away from them, she found herself able to perform spells, and she even started experimenting with potions. She was not in full control of her magic, sometimes things happened which she had not wanted, based on her moods. And it was such an occurrence that led to her wandlessly healing Tom Riddle. Merope had been watching him riding his horse, as he often did, on the track that led past her home. She had expected he would ride straight past, as usual. Tom would sometimes glance at the shack, and if that happened Merope would duck down behind the hedge so he would not notice her.

She loved to watch him, but she did not like to see him look at her. On the rare times he had seen her, he had an expression on his face that Merope knew was a mixture of repulsion and pity. To Tom, she was simply the old tramp’s daughter. The noble house of Salazar Slytherin and her being pureblood would mean nothing to him. In the Muggle world, he was the pureblood equivalent. He lived in a manor, and his family owned much of the land in Little Hangleton. He was so handsome and full of life. That was what had attracted her to him. She was meant to despise Muggles. Muggles were scum, according to her family. Yet Merope could never bring herself to feel the same way. Tom was perfect. He was the lone brilliant star shining in a dark night sky, always just out of Merope’s reach. She knew she was no beauty, not like Cecilia, who sometimes accompanied Tom when he went horse riding. Cecilia had auburn hair that fell down her back in soft, silky waves and bright blue eyes, with a delicate build and a fair complexion. Merope’s long brown hair was dull and a mess of tangles, her eyes were a murky dark brown, her face was plain and she was too thin. Merope knew Tom would never want her, but that had not stopped her from having hope that one day he would see her in a new light. Merope had fallen in love with him. All she could do was watch him from afar.

Yet, as he rode past her cottage something spooked his horse, which reared back suddenly. Tom lost his grip on the reins and had fallen off the horse. Merope had watched this event, and was too shocked to move for a few moments. That soon passed, and she found herself running over to the site where Tom’s prone body lay on the dirt path. She knelt by his side, and her eyes roamed over him. She had never been so close to him before, but she could not take the time to enjoy it and instead examined him for signs of life. He had always been pale, but now he was far too pale. One of his legs was bent at an unnatural angle and she was sure it was broken. He had a cut on his head that was bleeding profusely. Merope leaned over him and had cried in sheer relief when she realized he was still breathing, although it was only faintly. Merope had tightly taken hold of his hand and willed him to open his eyes. He did not. He just lay there, still and quiet. Merope had been on the verge of going to get her wand or calling for help when suddenly a golden light appeared around his body. He became less pale. The cut on his head faded and disappeared entirely, although the blood that had already trickled out of the cut remained. His breathing evened out and became stronger. His leg was no longer bent in an unnatural position. The golden light had disappeared as quickly as it had come.

Tom had awoken to see Merope hovering over him, and he had not been pleased. He was confused by what had happened to him. The last thing he remembered was riding his horse. “What are you doing?” He had snapped at Merope, pulling his hand free from hers. He had sat up slowly, and looked around. “Where is my horse?” Tom demanded to know.

“You had an accident, Tom” Merope mentally cursed herself for saying his name. She knew he would not like that, but somehow it had slipped out. Whenever she thought of him, he was always Tom to her.

“Don’t you dare call me Tom. You shall address me as Sir, or Mr Riddle. Do I make myself clear?” His tone of voice was considerably colder than it had been before.

“Yes, Mr Riddle. Your horse, I think he got scared. I don’t know what scared him, but he reared back and you fell...” Merope explained.

Tom frowned at her, but then his face cleared. “I fell from the horse? Yet I feel perfectly fine...How odd...” He raised a hand to his head and grew anxious when he saw his fingers were smeared in blood. “I have suffered a head wound. Why it causes me no pain, I do not know but you must hurry and fetch help...”

Merope shook her head. “No, sir. There is no wound, I promise you. When I first saw you, I was so scared. You were just lying there, so pale and still. You were barely breathing, and your leg was broken. It’s alright now, though. I healed you”

Tom had stood up then, staring at her as he took a few steps back. She was a peculiar little thing, with an odd name. Merope. “You are a strange girl indeed. I knew your father was insane, and your brother too. I had thought you were different. To think I even pitied you...Yet you are just as mad as they are, aren’t you? Do you really expect me to believe I was inches away from death, and you saved my life? With what, magic?” Tom shook his head derisively. Merope stood up but as she walked closer to Tom he held a hand up. “Stop. Do not come closer to me. I am leaving. I shall get help for myself, since you are unwilling to help me”

Tom was true to his word, and all Merope could do was watch him walk away. He now had an even worse impression of her, but at least he was alive. Merope did not know what she would have done if he had died. A few weeks later Merope had received a letter. She could scarcely believe it, but the letter was from Tom himself. He had wonderful penmanship, but unfortunately that made it harder for Merope to read his letter. She could barely read as it was, but she was trying her best to improve her reading and writing skills. Eventually Merope had used a spell that turned the letters into simple block letters, and from that she was able to decipher the main gist of the letter. Tom had invited her to his manor, and she was to be offered a job as a maid. Merope had not even had to think about it, she would have done anything to be closer to Tom, and so she packed up her few clothes into a bundle with her wand and set off for the manor. She always wore her locket around her neck, and there was nothing else important to her in the cottage. This was how the cottage came to be vacant.

Once Merope had reached her destination, she was unsure of where to go next. Instinctively she knew she should not enter by the grand front doors. After all, she was to be a servant and surely there would be a servant’s entrance somewhere. Merope saw a young girl disappear around a corner of the house, and decided to follow her. She was relieved when she found herself at a high brick wall with an enclosure. She stepped into the enclosure and walked up to a simple door. She knocked on the door and then waited patiently for it to be opened. When the door was opened, Merope saw a frazzled looking plump woman with greying hair tied away from her face in a messy bun. She had on a basic black dress and an apron. She frowned when she saw Merope.

“Sorry, love, no beggars are allowed here. I’d give you some food, but it’s one of Mr Carroway’s rules. And here’s me, meant to be preparing dinner, not answering doors. It’s that dratted girl Beth. She still hasn’t come back. Five minutes, she said she would be. And Miss Smithson is in fits, poor thing. There’ll be no need for a ladies maid here, after their deaths. May their poor souls rest in peace” She pressed her hands together and murmured a short prayer. “Now, miss, you had better be on your way” She started to close the door but Merope put a hand on the door.

“Wait, Mr Riddle called me here. He has given me a job. I’m to be a maid here” Merope hastily explained.

The woman, who Merope assumed was the cook, seemed surprised. “Mr Riddle? Ah, you must mean young Mr Riddle. Well, one of our girls did leave us recently. She was a hot tempered madam, that one. I hope you won’t be so wilful. And look at the state of you!” She opened the door wider, and ushered Merope inside. “There, now. Out of the cold, that’s much better. You just come with me and we’ll see Miss Sharpe, she’s the housekeeper. She’ll know what to do with you. I can’t leave my pies for much longer, Lucy will let them burn, I am sure...” She spoke on, at great length, fretting about leaving her kitchen in charge of Lucy. Merope caught a glimpse of the kitchen through a wide doorway as they walked down the hall. A blonde haired girl around Merope’s age, dressed similarly to the cook, was peering anxiously at the large stove. They passed a few doors before the cook knocked on a door. “Miss Sharpe, a girl is here to see you about taking Sarah’s place” The cook called out, before rushing back to her kitchen.

Merope did not have to wait long before the door opened and Miss Sharpe appeared. She was middle aged, slim and also in a black dress, but one of a finer quality with a white lace collar. Her face was pinched and her brown hair was pinned back tightly from her face. “Merope Gaunt, I presume?” Miss Sharpe tutted loudly as she examined Merope from head to toe, shaking her head ever so slightly in disapproval. “This is disgraceful. You are filthy! I cannot let you meet Mr Riddle in such a state” She snatched Merope’s bundle from her and shook out all the clothes Merope had brought. She set the wand aside and Merope instantly picked it up. “Ugh, these are little more than rags. They will all have to be burned. You may keep the wooden stick, although I do not know why you would want such a useless thing. I will present you with two uniforms, which I shall expect you to keep in a pristine condition. You must take good care of those uniforms. For now, you will have to wear them even when you are off duty. I will see what I can do about finding you some suitable dresses for everyday wear...” Miss Sharpe paused to frown at a passing red haired footman who had stopped dead in his tracks to stare at them. “Gary, surely there are better things to do with your time than gawking at us?”

He flushed red, shrinking back from Miss Sharpe’s cold gaze. “Sorry, Miss Sharpe” He hurried off, almost bumping into a taller footman who glared at him. This footman had jet black hair and striking good looks. His face was vaguely familiar to Merope, but she knew she had never met him before in her life. He seemed like he was about to say something spiteful, but seeing Miss Sharpe in the distance caused him to stay silent and he kept on walking. When he passed them, he smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes. Something in his face changed as his gaze fell on Merope but he walked away before she could figure out what it meant. He probably just was surprised to see her, like that other footman had been, but yet she knew it was not that.

“Merope, I would advise you to stay away from that one. He’s nothing but trouble, but he was a fond favourite of Mr Riddle before the accident” Miss Sharpe sighed. “Yet I do not see him in mourning, as we do”

“Mourning for who, Miss Sharpe?” Merope asked.

Miss Sharpe regarded Merope with an air of astonishment. “You do not know? Mr and Mrs Riddle are dead. They drowned on a boat. We just got the news yesterday, by a telegram. It was a most tragic accident. You must not talk about this to young Mr Riddle, of course. He is grieving, and it would be insensitive to mention his parents. Besides the fact that it is not your place. You are here to serve him, as are we all”

“Yes, Miss Sharpe” Merope replied timidly.

“Well, we must not waste any more time. You’re to have a bath now, and then Mr Riddle wishes to see you in his study” Miss Sharpe showed Merope to the servant quarters, and the bathroom for the female servants. She set up a bath for Merope then left for a short while, returning with a towel, undergarments and a maid’s uniform as well as a pair of sensible black shoes. “Hurry and get into the bath before the water gets cold. Make sure to cleanse yourself thoroughly, and wash your hair too. If I’m not satisfied with the result, you will have to bathe again” Miss Sharpe left the bathroom.

Merope had never had a real bath before, and not with warm water. She undressed, before slowly stepping into the tepid water. It felt nice, and after she sat down she followed Miss Sharpe’s orders, and used a washcloth to scrub her body and face all over until it was a flushed pink. The bar of soap in the water gave off a pleasant scent, and was also useful when Merope washed her hair. By the time Merope had finished with her bath, the water was a murky grey. She had just dried herself with a towel when Miss Sharpe came back into the bathroom. Miss Sharpe helped Merope to towel dry her hair, although it would be damp for some time yet. And then she helped Merope get dressed in her uniform, warning her to pay attention because after today Merope would be expected to dress by herself. Then Merope was taken to what was to be her new bedroom, which she would share with Lucy, the kitchen maid. Miss Sharpe then set about combing out Merope’s hair. It was an arduous task to get rid of all the knots and tangles, but Miss Sharpe persevered until the comb ran smoothly through Merope’s hair. She gathered Merope’s hair back and into a tight bun, using pins to secure the hair in place. “This will be the hairstyle I expect to see you with from now on. You must be neat and tidy”

There was a small mirror in the room and Merope was shocked when she saw her reflection. She would always be plain but there was a noted improvement to her appearance. Merope was pleased, and it seemed Miss Sharpe was too, as finally she declared that Merope was ready to be seen by Tom. When Merope reached the study, she was unsure of what to do so she just stood by the writing desk. Miss Sharpe had told her to wait in the study for Tom, and she waited for quite a long time before Tom finally appeared. He had dark circles around his eyes, and he seemed pensive. He held a glass tumbler half filled with an amber liquid.

Tom stared at Merope until he sensed she was getting uncomfortable. He was thinking of what to say to her, and he was also surprised by how much better she looked without all the dirt covering her skin and the rags she had fashioned into some kind of awful dress. “Take a seat, Merope”

Merope gingerly sat down on the leather armchair behind the writing desk. “Are you sure it’s alright for me to sit here, Mr Riddle?”

Tom laughed, taking a large swig of his drink. It was brandy, and left a pleasant burn at the back of his throat as it went down. He had become fonder of alcohol since his parent’s death. It helped to numb the pain. He had not been particularly close to his parents, but they had loved him, and he had loved them in his own way. “It’s perfectly fine, Merope. That’s an unusual name you have...”

Merope smiled softly at him. “I didn’t think you even knew my name”

“Of course I knew” Tom replied. “Half the gossip in the village is about your wretched family. Not that I listen to it. My darling Cecilia is the one who likes gossip...” He finished his drink then set the glass down on the writing desk. “Sorry. I’m being rude, aren’t I?” He did not give Merope a chance to reply and kept on talking. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Family is family, and at least you have your brother. I have no one now. Well, that’s not actually true” He laughed bitterly. “Can I tell you something? I bet all the servants know anyway. My father’s bastard is living here”

“The footman...” Merope interrupted Tom. “I don’t know his name, but I thought I knew him. I’ve never seen anyone so handsome before, apart from...” Merope paused. “Another gentleman” She finished lamely, not wanting to mention that it was Tom she meant.

“I assure you that James Bryce is no gentleman. And he shall get nothing from me. I would turn him out with no reference, but my father’s will has certain conditions” Tom sighed heavily. “And I haven’t even discussed why I brought you here, Merope” He walked around the desk, and took Merope’s hands into his own. Merope gasped in shock, a pink flush appearing on her face which brought a little colour to the pallor of her skin. Tom decided that he liked it. And of course it had not escaped his notice that Merope had her affections set on him. It was a great advantage to him now that he realized what power she was capable of. He was intrigued by her, and inclined now to believe her story about saving him. The doctor he had seen had found no signs of injury on him, in fact he had told Tom he was in great physical health. There was no cut on Tom’s head, although he knew there should have been. “I could have died, and if I had there would be nobody to carry on the Riddle line. Thanks to you, I survived. I don’t know what you did, but it was some kind of magic, was it not?”

Merope bit at her lip worriedly. “Magic? I don’t know what you mean, sir”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about. There’s no need to be afraid. I’m not going to run down to the village hall and tell everyone you’re some sort of...witch. That is what you are...Is it not?”

Merope stayed silent, but that was enough to confirm Tom’s suspicions. “This is wonderful, Merope. It was a shame that Bryce did not accompany my parents on their trip. If he had drowned, everything would be far simpler. I don’t suppose you could whip up some kind of spell or enchantment to help me get rid of him permanently?”

She shook her head, uneasy upon hearing his words. He had found out her secret, not that she had gone to any great lengths to hide it from him, and she was so glad he was not perturbed by it. Yet now he wanted to use her magic for evil. Merope had known he was not very kind, but to ask her to get rid of someone, especially a man that was his half-brother, was simply horrid. She did not think it was in her power to murder anyone, and even if she had been able to do it, she would not do it. She loved Tom, would do almost anything for him but she had to draw a line somewhere. “No, I can’t do that. It doesn’t work that way. I don’t have great control over my magic. And I came here to be a housemaid. I thought that was why you brought me here”

Tom glared at her. “Of course it was, you silly girl. Don’t look at me in such a way, it’s not like I asked you to kill him, I just want him gone from this house. To go to some far, distant land and never return. Is that really too much to ask? You do disappoint me” He let go of her hands. If Merope could not help him he would find another way. And yet perhaps in time he could still persuade her to change her mind.

Merope was relieved by what Tom had said. “I am sorry, Mr Riddle. I had thought you meant him harm. It’s just not in my nature to want to hurt people”

“Yes, of course it’s not. You may go now, Merope. I’m sure Miss Sharpe has some cleaning for you to do somewhere” After giving her a clear dismissal Tom gestured to a pile of rectangular boxes wrapped up in brown paper and tied with string. He had almost forgotten about them. “Those packages are all yours. I had them brought up here, much to Carroways’ horror. My butler is quite a stickler for tradition. I hope you enjoy them. If anything is the wrong size, just tell me and I’ll get it sorted out”

“Thank you so much, Mr Riddle. I shall work hard here, and I am most grateful to be working in this beautiful manor” Merope hurriedly went to pick up all the packages and left, Tom shutting the door behind her as quickly as he was able to. It was not too heavy a load, but she had to walk slowly for fear of dropping some of the packages. On her way back to the servant quarters she came across Gary, the red haired footman. He insisted on helping her carry the packages, and stared at her unabashedly for the entire journey. Merope was quite glad when they reached her room and he left. He seemed like a kind sort of person. She sensed the staring was not malicious, he was just curious about her. Yet the staring had made her uncomfortable.

As the days went by Merope soon settled into her role as housemaid. Summer turned to winter, as the months passed by. She barely got to see Tom. She was so busy doing her cleaning duties, and he was hard at work taking care of the family estate alongside the estate manager. Merope had noticed that Cecilia’s visits to Tom were few and far between. She hoped that Cecilia was at least sending Tom letters. It would have been better if she had been around more to support Tom through his grief over his parent’s death. Although part of Merope was glad that she rarely saw Cecilia. Cecilia hated her, and the feeling was mutual. Merope did not think Cecilia deserved Tom, but there was nothing she could do about it. With her half days off Merope had been experimenting with her wand and concocting potions. She had also devoted some of her free time to making dresses under the strict guidance of Miss Sharpe, who had warmed up to Merope considerably since seeing how conscientious Merope was about her cleaning duties.

Gary had become a good friend to Merope, and gave her lessons in reading and writing. The cook, Mrs Fontaine, suffered from migraines. They only came up once in a while, but when they did she just soldiered through the pain. Mrs Fontaine was devoted to her kitchen and was like a mother figure to the younger servants. Merope had wanted to help her, and so she had used some spices and fresh mint leaves from the garden, along with some other ingredients that were a lot harder to source, to make a draught that eased the pain of Mrs Fontaine’s headaches. She had told Mrs Fontaine it was just a home remedy, an old recipe that had been in her family for years. Mrs Fontaine had been doubtful of it at first, but now she treasured the little bottle that held the draught. Merope had found ways to help all her friends amongst the servants. James Bryce was not a friend, but neither was he her enemy. He was not neutral, like Miss Sharpe or the butler Mr Carroway, but he never went out of his way to annoy her. He had a great talent for upsetting the other servants, and Mr Carroway clearly wanted to get rid of him but that would not happen. And James knew it. The only person Merope did not get along with was Beth, another housemaid who was mean spirited and spiteful. Beth had dreams of being a Hollywood starlet, and felt like being a housemaid was beneath her. She was lazy, and constantly shifting some of her workload onto Merope. Merope had been sorely tempted to place a nasty hex on Beth, who took great pride in her smooth, clear skin and pretty face. Yet of course a hex would just get her in trouble with the Ministry of Magic. Merope did not intend to be dragged off to Askaban. She wanted to remain close to Tom as long as she was able to.

Merope’s birthday came around and to her surprise the servants had a party to celebrate it. The party happened after dinner. Mrs Fontaine had baked her a lovely sponge cake with a jam and cream filling, smothered in white icing. There was a delicate rose alongside Merope’s name written in cursive on the top of the cake. Much merrymaking was had by all, especially after Mrs Fontaine brought out a bottle of cooking brandy and Miss Sharpe contributed a bottle of dry sherry. Merope had a little of the sherry, but she did not like the taste much. She loved the cake, and all the presents she had been gifted with by the other servants. Unsurprisingly she received nothing from Beth, but Merope did not care about that. Gary had pulled her to one side as the party was winding down to a halt and given her his gift. It was a silver chain from which hung a small silver cross. He had insisted on helping her put the necklace on and had made Merope promise she would wear it every day. Merope had been very touched, by all that had happened at the party. It was the best birthday she had ever had, and she strongly suspected Gary had a larger role to play in the party than he would take credit for. He was, after all, the only one who had known the day Merope’s birthday fell upon. She had not even really wanted to tell him, but Gary had worn her down by constantly asking until she finally gave in. The bell for the upstairs drawing room had gone off, and Merope had been the one to answer the call. It was quite late by now, and the other servants had all retired to bed. The only reason Merope was around to hear the call was that she had been in the kitchen, sneakily having another piece of her delicious birthday cake.

Hearing the bell had quite frightened her. She had a fear of being caught up so late, when she should be sleeping. As she was walking upstairs and onwards to the drawing room, she did wonder why Tom had felt the need to summon a servant so late in the night. When Merope reached the drawing room, the door was half open. When she looked inside, she saw Tom sitting down on the carpet, leaning against the velvet chaise lounge. He was staring right in her direction, but yet somehow he was staring right past her like she was not even there. His dark eyes were dull and listless. There was a half empty crystal decanter beside him.

“Mr Riddle?” Merope hesitatingly stepped into the room. Only when she was standing directly in front of him did Tom seem to break free of his vacant stare.

Tom smiled wanly up at his housemaid. She looked worried about him. “Ah, Merope...Care to join me for a drink?”

Merope knelt down in front of him so they were on the same level. “I think you’ve had more than enough to drink, Mr Riddle”

He took hold of the decanter and pulled out the stopper, taking a long swig out of it. It was a fine Scotch and it was helping him boost his low spirits. His head felt pleasantly fuzzy, but he was not drunk. Nowhere close to it. And yet Merope appeared to think he was. Tom stood up, to prove to her that she was wrong, but then he realized it was not a good idea for him to move so fast. He would have stumbled and fallen had it not been for Merope grabbing hold of him. “Yes, I think perhaps you’re right” Tom admitted.

“I had better help you up to your room, sir” Merope suggested firmly, but really it was not a suggestion. She was going to help him whether he wanted her help or not. He was not in a fit state to walk on his own. He was not in a drunken stupor yet, but if she left him there on his own he soon would be. To her surprise, Tom made no protest to her plan. He leaned on her for support as Merope slowly made her way up the stairs and to Tom’s room. She sat him down on his bed as gently as she could. While it was a relief to have his weight off her, Merope was already missing being so close to him. She assisted Tom in taking off his shoes and pulled back the covers so he could crawl into bed. Once he was settled comfortably on the bed, covers pulled back over him and his head resting on the pillows, Merope bid him goodnight.

Tom reached out and took hold of her arm as she was turning away. “No, don’t leave me here alone” He pleaded softly. It was rather humiliating that he was asking a housemaid to stay and comfort him, but Merope was not just any maid. There was something special about her, and it was not just because she had magical powers. Most importantly, she loved him. Tom would have had to be blind not to see her devotion to him, and right now he just wanted to be around a person who cared for him. “Will you stay until I fall asleep?” He asked her.

Merope sat down on the edge of the bed. “I’ll stay as long as you want me to. It’s just that I...” Merope hesitated. She wanted to know what had made Tom so upset, but at the same time she knew it was not her place to ask. “Is everything all right?”

“No, it’s not, but in time it will be. I don’t want to talk about it, but I will just say you won’t see Cecilia visit anymore” Tom sighed heavily. “It’s all over...I’ve lost her forever” He whispered.

He sounded broken, and it hurt Merope. She did not want him to suffer, but she was thrilled that Tom would no longer be with Cecilia. She was dying to know what had happened to cause them to part, but it was something that would have to remain a mystery. “I’m so sorry, Mr Riddle” She wished she could do more for him. And then she remembered the potion she had made a few days ago. “I have something that can help you sleep. You’ll wake up feeling so refreshed. Should I fetch it for you?”

“No, but thank you for the offer” He studied her closely, for the first time noticing a glimpse of something silver. “What’s that? A necklace?”

“Oh...” Merope put a hand up to her throat. “I thought I had tucked it away. I won’t wear it when I’m working”

“It’s fine, but where did you get it from?” Tom asked as he sat up in bed, his curiosity rising. “Can I see it?”

Merope unfastened the necklace and handed it to Tom. “It was a gift from Gary”

“Gary? Oh, you mean Anderson...Why is he giving you gifts?”

“It was for my birthday, sir” Merope explained.

Tom examined the necklace, not making any attempt to hide his distaste of the cheap piece of jewellery. “You had better not wear it anymore. It’s just a piece of junk, it’s not real silver”

Merope frowned at Tom, thinking his judgement of her necklace was harsh. “Well, I don’t mind. It was nice of him to think of buying me a present. He’s a good friend to me” She smiled softly as she took the necklace back and put it around her neck once more.

Tom was just about to tell her that it was clear Anderson liked her, but then he changed his mind. It was selfish, he knew, but he wanted Merope to only love him, and no one else. If she knew that Anderson liked her, there was a chance she could fall for the footman. Only a very small chance but it was still a risk Tom was not willing to take. He had already lost Cecilia to another man but he would not lose Merope as well. Lately it seemed to Tom like he was losing control of his life, with his parents’ unexpected deaths and Cecilia’s betrayal. At least he still had a hold on Merope. Tom could at least still have control over Merope, and that comforted him. “I didn’t know it was your birthday, or I would have gotten you a present”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter” Merope replied, letting a soft laugh escape her. “It’s not even my birthday anymore, we’re past midnight now”

Tom leant closer to Merope, staring into her eyes. “Would you like a birthday kiss?”

“Sir, you don’t know what you’re saying” Merope’s smile slipped away, although her face felt hot with his close proximity and a part of her desperately wished he really meant it. “It’s the drink talking, you don’t mean it”

Tom was getting frustrated. He did not bother trying to explain to Merope that he did in fact honestly want to kiss her, and it had nothing to do with him having had a little too much Scotch. Instead he simply pressed their lips together, wrapping his arms around Merope so she would not be able to push him away. He felt Merope tense up, but then she relaxed into the kiss and willingly responded. Through that kiss Tom could tell that Merope was shy, unsure of herself. It was probably her first kiss, and Tom was glad of it. Unlike Cecilia, Merope had a sweet innocence that was refreshing. And he was sure Merope would not hurt him like Cecilia had. The problem, Tom thought, as the kiss ended, was that he would likely be the one who ended up hurting her. Tom was not sure why it should bother him, but it did. He gently released Merope from his hold. “So there, you see I do mean what I say. Goodnight, Merope”

Merope had daydreamed of such a moment, but it was one thing to dream of something and another thing entirely to really experience it. It had been wonderful, even though she still thought the drink had caused Tom to suddenly want to kiss her. She stood up from the bed, “Thank you, sir. Goodnight” She smiled, but as she was turning away from the bed Tom caught hold of her hand.

“When we’re alone together, I think you should call me Tom. In fact, I won’t take no for an answer” Tom stated firmly.

“If that’s what you want, sir. Ah, I mean...Tom” Merope replied.

Although she felt uneasy about what he had asked of her, she was also pleased. The boundaries between her and Tom seemed to be blurring, and Merope knew that she was not behaving in a manner befitting what Miss Sharpe would term as a respectable young girl but she could not bring herself to care. She was not sure what was going to happen between her and Tom, but she was under no illusion that he actually liked her. If anything, he was using her for comfort and Merope told herself she did not mind, although of course she did. Yet, she wanted Tom to be happy and being with him like this was better than not being with him at all. The next morning, Merope overslept and was soundly scolded by Mr Carroway, but she did not mind her chastisement when she thought back on what had happened the night before. Merope went about her duties that day in a state of distraction, and even Beth who loved to shirk her duties got annoyed with Merope’s lack of diligence in her work. It took Merope causing an accident with a stack of plates to make her pull herself together and get back to her usual hardworking self. In the week that followed, Merope did not see Tom, much to her disappointment. He had gone on a trip on London, but when he returned he came back with a present for her. It was a floral perfume in a delicate glass bottle, and Merope treasured it.

Tom had kissed her again, and he had been very much sober. Merope had thoroughly enjoyed herself, and she was sure Tom had too. He taught her about French kissing, and although she had been shocked at first, she soon started to enjoy it. It made their kisses more intimate. It was something that Merope loved and yet feared. Every time they met up, she reminded herself that what they were doing meant nothing to him. Yet she still could not help falling for him even more, and at times she even pretended he loved her too. Merope knew it would not end well, but she also could not stop herself from seeing him. As long as he still wanted her, Merope would be there for him. Eventually, Merope gave Tom her virginity. He had been gentle with her, and it had not hurt as much as she had feared it would. She had marvelled at the strange, exciting, pleasurable sensations he made her feel, and at the way she had felt such a powerful connection to him. Merope knew the memory of that fateful night would stay with her forever. She did not regret it afterwards, even though it made Tom change his attitude towards her. He became cold and distant, and Merope had felt like she was nothing more than a broken doll he had gotten bored of. Their secret meetings came to an abrupt halt. Tom began to ignore Merope whenever he saw her, and she knew he went out of his way to avoid her at times.

Merope had been expecting it to end. She had known what she had with Tom could not last, and that he could not ever love her like she loved him. It was not like she was unused to suffering, having lived through years of constant abuse from her family. Yet in her heart she still felt the pain of Tom’s rejection keenly, and she was depressed because of him. He had been cruel, but she did not blame him. His soul was just as tortured as Merope’s, in different ways. He too had suffered. Merope was glad she had been able to distract him from his troubles, at least for a while. Merope had worked hard before, but now she threw herself into her cleaning duties, and even asked for extra chores. Merope kept herself busy to stop her from thinking too much about Tom. Merope did her best to appear unaffected around her fellow servants, although they were more observant than she thought. They knew she was sad, but since she would not tell them why, they all did their best to comfort her in their own ways. Merope often thought that the servants were like one large, dysfunctional but happy family, and she was content to be part of it. Her real family had never been kind to her, apart from her mother, who Merope could scarcely remember now.

When she first threw up, Merope thought she had caught the flu, after the cold chill that had settled in her body. In the cold winter months, influenza had already affected some of the other servants. Miss Sharpe had insisted that Merope be confined to her room until the doctor could come and take a look at her. When the doctor had come, however, he had been sure it was not the flu. He thought Merope had simply eaten something that had upset her stomach, as well as having a common cold. Mrs Fontaine had taken that as an insult to her cooking, and had loudly declared that it could not have been her food that had made Merope feel sick. The cook had interrogated Merope thoroughly about her eating habits. Merope vaguely remembered having eaten some blackberries which grew wild on bushes in the village, and Mrs Fontaine had declared the fruit to be the culprit. Yet Merope had been sick again the next morning, and from there it continued on until Miss Sharpe took her aside for a private talk. Merope had not understood why Miss Sharpe had looked at her with such a disappointed, grave expression, and she had wondered what she could have possibly done wrong. Miss Sharpe explained to Merope that she suspected Merope was pregnant. Merope had not been able to comprehend Miss Sharpe’s words at first, and it had taken a while for the information to sink in.

Pregnant. Merope wanted to tell Miss Sharpe it could not be possible, but the words stuck in her throat. Miss Sharpe took her shocked silence as a sign that she had been right, and had then reprimanded Merope aggressively for her actions that had led to such an event. The housekeeper had demanded to know who the father was, but Merope had stubbornly kept her silence. Miss Sharpe had grown so frustrated at Merope’s lack of answer that she had struck her. She had then begun to cry, and hugged Merope tightly. Merope had welcomed her embrace, and did not blame Miss Sharpe for striking her. She knew in her heart that Miss Sharpe had just gotten so angry because she cared about Merope. Miss Sharpe told Merope that she could no longer stay at the manor. It seemed very cruel to Merope. She did not want to leave, but she also knew Miss Sharpe was right. She could not possibly stay, with a baby on the way. And there was more risk of someone figuring out that the father was Tom, if she did stay on. It would cause a terrible scandal, and Tom had already been suffering enough.

As Merope packed up her belongings, in a suitcase that had been kindly given to her by Mrs Fontaine, she was in a numb state. It was simply easier than being upset. She had cried enough already, and tears would not change the past. And she did not want the past to change. It saddened her that she had to leave Tom, but she felt like she would always have him with her, through their unborn child. It was a thought that comforted her. Merope had decided against seeing Tom before she left. She did not want to tell him about the baby, but if she saw him she was afraid she would not be able to stop herself from revealing the truth. It pained her, but she knew that even if Tom found out about the baby, he would not care. The baby would just be another inconvenience to him, like his half-brother James was. She had written a letter to Tom, and had managed to persuade Beth to deliver the letter after she had gone. Beth had gone from hating her to pitying her since the discovery. Merope knew that Mr Carroway was eager to see her leave as quickly as possible. Yet she knew many of the servants would miss her and she would miss them too. Miss Sharpe had given Merope some extra money despite Merope’s protests that she could manage on her wages. Merope had saved most of the wages she had earned. If she was careful, her wages along with Miss Sharpe’s thoughtful donation, would mean that she could pay for her room and board for a while. Merope had no intention of going back to her family home; there were too many bad memories there. Mrs Fontaine and Lucy had generously made up a basket of provisions for Merope to carry away with her. Even James had taken her aside and wished her well in her travels. He had told her he knew he was going to be an uncle, but he had also promised not to tell anyone. Merope was not entirely sure she could trust him, but it was out of her hands now. He knew, and that was that. Fond farewells were exchanged between Merope and the servants, and then she departed from the manor.

When Tom had been informed of Merope’s departure, he had been shocked at first, and then guilt had threatened to overcome him. He had let his guilt form into anger and had then unfairly directed it at the servants, particularly Miss Sharpe and Merope’s fellow housemaids. He had demanded to know why she had left, and what he had been told had astonished him. He found it hard to believe, but he knew it was the truth. He would not be lied to by his servants, not with such a serious matter. He had wanted to know where Merope was going, but had been met with a tight lipped resistance from the servants. In desperation he threatened a meek looking blonde girl with losing her job and being sent away with no reference. It may have seemed cruel to the other servants, but he had to find out where Merope was, and he did not truly intend to sack the girl. It turned out her name was Lucy, and she was a kitchen maid. Lucy had revealed that Merope was staying at the village inn, and from there would travel out of the village. She had no further knowledge of Merope’s future destinations, but she had let it slip that a housemaid had a letter from Merope that was addressed to him. The housemaid’s name was Beth, and she had a conceited air about her, likely because she was pretty. She had refused to give him the letter, saying Merope had wanted her to keep it for a month before she handed it to him. Unlike Lucy, she could not be bullied into submission and threats to her job were met with amusement on her part. So he had then tried to bribe her with a wage increase, but when that had also failed he pretended he had given up of getting the letter.

He may not have been able to bribe Beth, but his brother was more amenable to being bribed, despite the mutual hatred felt between them. James was not selfish for once in his life, and asked for something on behalf of his adoptive father. So Tom had signed over the deeds to the gardener’s cottage to Frank Bryce. Tom had often pitied Frank for having to raise his father’s bastard and live with the shame of knowing his wife had betrayed him. The man was an excellent gardener, and Tom had been planning to let Frank retire in the cottage, so he had not minded signing over the deeds. James had kept to his end of the deal and had procured the letter for him. Tom had no idea how he had been able to sneak into the female servants’ quarters, but he did not really care.

The important thing was that he finally had the letter, and he read it while his chauffeur was driving him to the village inn. As he was reading the letter, Tom was hit hard by the knowledge of how shameful his actions had been. Up until now, he had been able to believe he had done the right thing by pushing Merope away. He had convinced himself he had done it more for her sake than his own. He had been fine with being with her while he was still in control of his emotions, and using her as a rebound from his break up with Cecilia. Everything between him and Merope had been fine, until Tom had actually started to feel something for her, and it had scared him. He was not ready to open up to her, so soon after Cecilia had broken his heart. Tom had actually been foolish enough to believe Cecilia was the one, but he had been wrong. It had been unbearable when Cecilia had betrayed him, and if Merope had ended up doing the same it would have been too much for Tom to handle. Also, there had been the significance of their social class to consider. Tom was proud of his upbringing, and had always looked down upon the lower classes. Before he had met Merope, Tom would never even have dreamt of being with a girl who was poor. And Tom’s own father had nearly destroyed his marriage by having an affair with a maid. Yet Merope was very different from that maid. That maid had been a wicked temptress who had only been after his father’s fortune, and had foolishly thought getting pregnant would secure his father’s affection for her permanently. Merope had not manipulated Tom in any way, in fact it had been he who had toyed with her feelings and used her. It was Tom who had not thought to obtain a form of protection before the night he had slept with her. That night had also been when he realized he had feelings for her.

Now all Tom wanted was to have Merope by his side once more. Merope and his unborn child. He would marry her, and for once think not of his reputation in high society. “Make haste, Huntley” Tom urged his chauffeur, despite there being a blockage ahead in the road. Tom still had his eyes on the letter, and so he had not noticed why the car had slowed to a halt.

“Sir, there’s a fallen tree. I can’t go no further until it’s gone” Huntley replied.

Tom refrained from snapping at Huntley, it wasn’t his fault of course but Tom was still very annoyed at the delay. He waited for a while, but then he had enough and decided to walk. When he finally reached the inn, he saw Anderson inside along with a few regulars. The red haired footman was sitting at a table, nursing a glass mug of beer with a glum look on his face. When he saw Tom, he made to stand up but instead he swayed on his feet and ended up knocking his mug of beer to the ground. He glared up at Tom hatefully as he used the table to lean against as he stood back up again. “You bastard” Anderson hissed, his face turning red as he made to lunge at Tom, but a burly man stopped him from doing so. The man grabbed Anderson and dragged him over to the door, before throwing him out of the inn.

The man was the innkeeper, and he gave Tom a hard, unfriendly stare. “What do you want down here?”

“Is there a girl staying here? She has long dark hair, she’s pale, has brown eyes and she’s quite thin” Tom asked, staring back at the innkeeper coldly.

“There might be, there might not...” The innkeeper replied evasively, crossing his arms. “And just who is going to pay for the mess your friend made?” He gestured to the shards of glass on the ground, lying in a pool of spilled beer.

“He’s my footman, not my friend, and the man simply had too much to drink” Tom handed the innkeeper a large sum of money. “Now, where is she?”

The innkeeper counted the money carefully, and then pocketed it before pointing to a narrow staircase at the far end of the inn. “Second door on the right”

Tom marched upstairs and to the room Merope was staying in. He was too impatient to knock, and so he just opened the door and went inside. The room was small and gloomy. The only light came from a tiny window. Merope was sitting down on the tiny bed, and her attention was focused on the red wool and the knitting needles she had in her hands. “Gary, I won’t go with you. I can’t just...” She looked up then, and her words trailed away into nothing when she saw it was Tom who stood in the doorway. ”What are you doing here, Mr Riddle?”

“Mr Riddle? I thought we had a discussion about that before...” Tom replied, smiling at her tenderly.

Merope rose from the bed, setting her knitting down and then she frowned at him. “I wish you hadn’t come here. People will talk; you’ll ruin your reputation...”

“So let them talk” Tom stepped closer to her and pulled her into his arms. “And I don’t give a damn who knows about us”

“No!” Merope exclaimed angrily, reluctantly pushing him away. “There is no us, there never was an us. We were never together”

Tom caught hold of her hands, and kept her close. “Not in the right way, Merope. I know I treated you badly, and I’ve never been good at apologizing, but I truly am sorry” He raised one of her hands up to his face, and dropped a soft kiss onto the back of her hand. “You didn’t deserve to be hurt by me. You loved me, and I took advantage of your love. I used you, but once I realized I liked you, I couldn’t do it anymore. That’s why I shut you out, you see. I was selfish, and I didn’t want to face up to my true feelings for you”

“You really want me?” Merope whispered reverently. “That’s not possible...”

“Yes. I want you, and our baby too” Tom replied sincerely.

He had such a solemn expression on his face that Merope found it hard to doubt him. “It would never work, though. We come from different worlds. I should just be with Gary. He offered to marry me, take care of the baby. He’s a good man. And you could move on. Find another lady like Cecilia to marry...”

Tom scowled at the mention of his footman. “Anderson won’t be coming near you or the baby. You’re mine, and I don’t want any other woman. Especially not one like Cecilia” He stated firmly. “Now, where’s your luggage? I’ve come to take you home, and I’m not going until you agree to come back with me”

“I only brought one suitcase. And some food...But I can’t go back to the manor”. Merope shook her head sadly. “What would my place be there?”

Tom wound his arms around her once more, and this time Merope did not stop him. “Your place would be at my side, as my wife”

“Oh, Tom...” Merope leaned against him, and clung to him tightly as she started to cry. She was so overwhelmed by everything that had happened. Merope could hardly believe it was true; it was like a dream come to life. To think she would get to be with Tom for good, and raise the baby with him. To think that she would even be able to take his family name as her own, and be wed to him. These thoughts made her feel happier than she had ever been before. Merope felt Tom press a kiss gently onto the top of her head, and he continued to support her as she cried. Finally, Merope had been able to cry tears of joy, not of sorrow as she so often had in the past. She would never be lonely again, because now she would have her own family to cherish, as long as she lived.

Thank you for reading this story :)


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