Disclaimer: I obviously own nothing from the Harry Potter series. Wilting is fanfiction and written purely for fun and no profit.

Wilting

Merope stared at her hand in horror and bewilderment. For months now she had felt a tightness in her chest and had more trouble breathing, and more recently she had begun to experience coughing fits, but this was new and worse, much worse. Specks of blood littered her hand from her most recent coughing fit, and she knew that meant something was seriously wrong with her.

She'd told her father about her deteriorating health before, but he didn't believe in seeing healers. It was his belief that descendants of the Slytherin line were above that. Merope held little hope that her father would agree to take her to a healer now, even when it was clear she was severely ill.

What Merope found perplexing, and it was the strangeness that cut through the horror for her, was how she had coughed up a flower petal of all things when she'd had her most recent coughing fit. She didn't recognize what kind of flower it was. It was a soft pink color, and she wasn't sure whether it had turned that color by being stained by her own blood or not. Droplets of blood appeared on the petal as well.

Lacking any other option, Merope went to her father's room and knocked on his door. He came out irritated like usual.

"What?" Marvolo curtly asked in Parseltongue, for everyone spoke only in Parseltongue in the Gaunt house. The only time the Gaunts spoke in English was when they had no alternative but to communicate with outsiders.

"My health has gotten worse, father," Merope meekly replied, looking at the floor. "I had a coughing fit just a few minutes ago, and blood came up. For some reason, a strange flower did too. Can you please take me to see a healer?"

Not hearing a response for several seconds, Merope cautiously looked up and immediately regretted it. She flinched. Marvolo's face was red with fury. She tensed up and focused on keeping her labored breathing under control.

Marvolo smacked Merope so hard across the face she fell to the ground. He yelled, "You filthy blood traitor! You're still obsessing over that muggle scum! I thought I got through to you that you should have nothing to do with him!"

Merope's eyes widened. She had no idea how her father knew she still held feelings for Tom Riddle. She had told him after the last beating that she wanted nothing to do with the man. She'd avoided going outside on the porch when she heard the handsome man ride by on his horse for weeks now.

"I don't understand," Merope said because she had to say something.

"You're ill alright," Marvolo spat, "but there is no cure for you."

"What's wrong with me?" Merope asked desperately. "Why is there no cure?"

Marvolo answered, "When a witch or wizard experiences unrequited love for an extended period of time, they deteriorate until they die. Since you've foolishly continued to desire that muggle, you will die."

"No! There must be some cure, some way I can get over this!" Merope insisted.

Marvolo glared at her. "Perhaps if you stop with this foolishness you'll recover, but if you've gotten this far, it's unlikely." Marvolo turned away from Merope. "Get out of my sight."

Merope scrambled up from the floor and ran to her room. She closed the door and slunk to the ground. She pulled her knees to her chest and hugged them.

Her love for Tom Riddle was killing her.

No, her unrequited love for Tom Riddle was killing her.

...What if she could get Tom Riddle to return her feelings?

Merope frowned. She'd already tried to get him to return her feelings before and failed. She knew she wasn't pretty, but she wasn't completely hideous. Or was she? ...No. She wasn't hideous. She just wasn't especially pretty. Maybe if he got to know her better he'd like her then? But how would she get him to spend enough time around her to get to know her even, let alone fall in love?

Even though Tom liked to ride his horse on a trail near the Gaunt house, it wasn't as though he came close to the house. She knew what the villagers said, what they thought of her home and of her family. They called the house a shack and her family insane. It didn't help that her brother Morfin would nail snakes to the front door and angrily yell at the muggles in Parseltongue. Even the average wizard would've been turned away.

Merope had tried to gain Tom's attention the muggle way, trying to be pretty and helpful while nearby, and while he'd been polite, it'd been apparent he didn't return her feelings nor have any interest in her. But she wasn't a muggle now was she? She was a witch. Perhaps not a very good witch, but she was a witch nonetheless. Surely there was some spell or potion she could use to grab and hold his attention for long enough to allow him to get to know her. Then he might actually return her feelings!

Feeling hopeful, Merope grinned and began to plan. She would start going through the books the family had on spells and potions that night after her brother and father went to sleep. They didn't approve of her interest in Tom before, and it was clear from her father's reaction that they wouldn't now and wouldn't be helpful. They'd just beat and berate her like before if they knew what she was planning, so it was best to keep it secret.

That night Merope attempted to sneak out of her room to the common area to grab a couple books only to see Marvolo sleeping in his chair. Not willing to risk waking her father, she returned to her room feeling defeated and somewhat confused. He didn't normally sleep outside of his bedroom. Did he suspect what she was planning?

Over the course of the next several weeks Merope found the same pattern repeating itself. Marvolo apparently had decided to post himself right near all the books they had on spells and potions indefinitely. Did he want her to die? She didn't dare ask, but even as her hope deteriorated, her resolve to survive remained. All the while she had increasingly more coughing fits with specks of blood and flower petals.

One day, a man from the Ministry arrived because Morfin had once again used magic on some muggles. Merope was disturbed to learn that of all the muggles Morfin could've attacked he had attacked Tom.

Before the man from the Ministry left, Morfin mockingly brought up Merope's interest in Tom, which set Marvolo off into a rage. Her father began to strangle her and ranted about how she was a filthy blood traitor hankering after a filthy muggle.

The man from the Ministry saved her, and then Morfin and Marvolo began to fight him.

The man disappeared and returned with reinforcements. Marvolo and Morfin were arrested and taken away.

Merope couldn't believe her luck. Now she didn't have to worry about them at all or at least not while they were with the authorities.

She obsessively went through all the books she could get her hands on, searching for anything that could help her with her objective. After a few days, she successfully found a couple of useful spells and potions.

She knew she had had trouble trying to cast spells before, but without Marvolo and Morfin around to constantly put her down, she felt she could try and fail in peace. She was surprised to find that without the stress from her father and brother weighing her down she was able to cast spells easily after just a bit of practice.

Even if she failed to get Tom to return her interest, she decided she would not remain in the Gaunt house until her death. She didn't deserve to live her final days suffering more than necessary.

Merope made a plan to cast the Imperius Curse on Tom the next time he rode his horse nearby and get him to drink a glass containing a dose of Amortentia. Although Merope didn't like that she needed to resort to such underhanded methods to gain Tom's attention, she decided that it was worth it. The ends would justify the means.

Sure enough, the next time Tom came by the Gaunt house, Merope enacted her plan successfully.

...Her plan was a little too successful as Tom insisted upon eloping with her so they'd be married within just a few weeks.

Merope didn't want to marry just yet. She just wanted to make it so Tom would spend time with her and get to know her. Once she felt he knew her well and might return her feelings, then she'd stop using magic on him. If he wanted to marry at that point, then she'd be ecstatic as it'd mean he returned her feelings.

However, she wasn't able to sway Tom away from rushing into a marriage with her. He was so insistent on it and either unable or unwilling to change his mind. She didn't have it in her to deny him.

Tom's parents didn't take the news well. They were furious. They called Merope a harlot.

Tom and Merope decided to leave Little Hangleton and move to London.

Merope wrote a letter for her father for whenever he got out of Azkaban and took Slytherin's Locket and any other valuable items she could easily take with her, including the potions book that contained the recipe for Amortentia and the large batch of the potion she'd already made.

She told herself that soon she would stop using the potion on Tom, but she couldn't do so just yet.

While Tom's parents had been upset by his choice for a wife, they didn't disown him. He still had access to all the money he did before, so he and Merope lived comfortably in London for several months.

During this time, Merope's condition not only didn't improve, but it worsened. She convinced herself that she needed to continue using Amortentia on Tom because he didn't really know her well yet. She couldn't admit to herself that she was using the potion on him at this point out of fear he wouldn't return her feelings. In such a situation, she'd have to accept that there was no cure and that she would, in fact, die soon from unrequited love.

Once Merope got pregnant she had even more incentive to keep using Amortentia on Tom. She needed him to care for their child once he or she was born, and she had no means to care for herself and their unborn child if he tossed her aside before then.

A few weeks before their child was due to be born Merope decided to stop using the potion on her husband. By now she was coughing up so much blood and so many flower petals she could not continue lying to herself about her condition. She was dying. Her husband's potion-induced infatuation wasn't enough to count as reciprocation of her feelings. She needed to stop using the potion on him, and then she would learn whether he did or did not return her feelings. He'd had enough time to get to know her and come to return her feelings if he ever would.

Before the Amortentia wore off, Merope sat Tom down and explained her condition and what she had done and why, and she hoped that he would understand once he was no longer under the potion's influence.

Merope had no such luck.

The moment the potion wore off, Merope could immediately recognize the change in Tom's demeanor. He was fearful and enraged. He didn't understand what she'd explained before and wouldn't allow her to explain now. He didn't return her feelings. He didn't want her in his life. He wanted nothing to do with their child.

Tom made Merope gather her belongings and leave.

Merope went to a nearby park, sat on a bench, and sobbed. Tom would never return her feelings. She was going to die. Their child would grow up without ever knowing his parents.

She cast a warming charm on herself as it was a cold and snowy November day and took stock of what she had with her.

She had had the foresight to make a large batch of a nutrient potion during the time she'd normally brew Amortentia, so in the very least she wouldn't starve, and the baby would survive. There were only a few weeks left until the baby was due to be born.

Merope knew she had little time left before she'd succumb to her illness, and she was in no condition to care for a baby and certainly wouldn't be once the baby was born. She planned to leave the baby at an orphanage. She had looked into orphanages as a backup plan just in case Tom didn't return her feelings or didn't want to have anything to do with their child. Her baby needed to survive with or without them in his or her life.

Weeks went by, and Merope got tired of being outside in the cold. She sold the books she had as well as Slytherin's Locket. She suspected she was being paid less than what they were worth, but she felt so hopeless and aimless that she just couldn't bring herself to care. She'd be lucky to live long enough to bring her child into the world.

A week before Merope had her baby, she spent the time in a comfortable hotel room. It wasn't fancy as she couldn't afford much, but it was better than what she'd been dealing with.

On the morning of New Year's Eve, Merope's water broke, and she began to feel contractions. She tried to stay in the hotel room, but after many hours passed and the contractions worsened, she realized she'd need assistance and couldn't have the baby alone.

She staggered over to the nearby orphanage, Wool's Orphanage. Employees of the orphanage helped Merope inside and took her to a room where she ended up giving birth to her son. Merope told Mrs. Cole, one of the orphanage's employees, that her son should be named Tom Marvolo Riddle; Tom for his father, Marvolo for her father, and Riddle for his surname.

Merope had little hope that her husband would ever come for their son, and she didn't really want her father to find her son, but in the off chance that her husband changed his mind or her son wanted to find his remaining family when he got older, naming her son as she did was the best she could do.

She hoped that her son would turn out to look like his father. Good looks would help him go far in life even if he didn't have anything else.

Not even an hour after Merope gave birth, she died. She suffocated to death on the flowers that had been filling up more and more space in her lungs.

By the time an employee of the orphanage found Merope's corpse, the flowers had disappeared. Her son slept peacefully in her arms, completely unaware of what had transpired.