Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters, names, places or situations described in this story, which all belong to J. .
A/N: Many thanks to Georgina (touched-but-unbroken here on the site) who beta-read this story.
She staggered down the stairs, catching herself just in time. Her long black hair covered her eyes, and she made an impatient move to get it out of the way. There was a human skull in the window in front of her, which made her recoil, and she nearly slipped again. Merope Gaunt, or Riddle, as she preferred to call herself, was hungry and exhausted. Her white skin was covered in bruises, and her black torn robe barely concealed the fact that she was pregnant.
She moved down the street, looking at the shop signs. Finally, upon approaching what seemed the largest shop, Borgin and Burkes, she stopped uncertainly and felt something around her neck. She skimmed the display with her eyes, which were staring into different directions, and sighed with relief upon seeing a price mark of a few dozens of Galleons.
Still hesitating, she drew closer to the door. Just then, it flew open, and a fat woman, dressed in robes of gleaming blue, hurried angrily out of the shop. Merope could just hear her saying "… such nonsense, trade it for the cup," to a small female house-elf at her side, before she scurried down the street, and the door was closed again.
Her hand trembling, Merope went to the door, and opened it slightly. A shiver of cold passed through her, as she entered the shop, which was nearly as freezing as the snow outside. A few candles were lit around the room, but there was hardly any light in the place.
A small wizard, his hair all over his face, was leaning over the counter, counting money. She approached him slowly, not daring to speak.
He raised his head. "What do you want?" His eyes scanned her briefly, showing nothing but contempt.
"I… I have something I would like to sell," she said in a croaked voice. She coughed, again and again, not able to stop.
"And what might that be?" said the man, eyeing her with suspicion and ignoring the fact she was hardly able to breathe.
Not capable of speaking, she took a golden chain off her neck. A large locket was hanging from it, with a delicately carved S on its top. Her coughing fit subsided a little, and she managed to whisper, "It was Slytherin's. I'm a descendant."
She could easily feel that the shopkeeper was not impressed. He reached disinterestedly and took the locket in his palm. Taking a monocle and putting it on, he looked closely at the piece of jewellery in front of him. He did a fast wand movement with his other hand, and the locket shone with bright golden light.
"I'll tell you what," he said. "I believe you are wrong – this gold seems to me too new to have been there when Slytherin walked the earth. I will give you ten Galleons for it, as I am fond of gold, but I can hardly offer more."
"But... How can it be? My father always told me that the locket belonged to Slytherin himself, that it's his mark on it… We also had the Peverell ring in our possession, if you know what that is. I just need that money so badly…" Merope felt her powers draining with each word. She hadn't spoken that much in a long time.
"I'm sorry," said the man indifferently. "Either your father lied to you, or he was fooled himself. This was definitely made much later that the tenth century, and therefore couldn't be Slytherin's."
She felt disappointment cursing through her veins. Of course, her father never bothered to check the validity of his ancestors' claims. Why should he? He was so sure of himself and proud of his bloodline, he couldn't even assume that he was being told a lie. This was just an ordinary locket, and she should be happy to get what amount he was giving her.
"Alright," Merope said quietly. She took the ten coins that the shopkeeper had put on the counter, and turned to leave, coughing once again.
"Wait," said the man, not as harshly as could be expected. "Drink this." He gave her a glass full of some unknown liquid. She took a sip, and felt a warm feeling spreading in her body. Her lungs calmed down, and the dizziness that accompanied her since the morning disappeared.
"Thank you," Merope said. She tried to smile, but seemed to have forgotten how it was done. She had hardly had any reasons to smile since her mother died, when she'd been a small child.
She exited the shop, keeping her hand shut tightly around the golden coins that seemed like a treasure to her. She never saw Caractacus Burke doing a couple more spells on the locket she left behind, his eyes gleaming excitedly all the while. She never knew the price that he would later ask for it, and which Hepzibah Smith would gladly pay. She never knew that the son that was born to her the very next day, would one day hold that same locket, his own eyes glinting madly at the sight of Slytherin's mark upon it.