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Tom hummed softly as he wiped the tables in the Leaky Cauldron. His first day of work had been a resounding success. His boss, Madame Windward, had even complimented him on his hard work; "Keep this up, and someday you may be the one running this place," she said with a smile as she went to her office at the end of the busy day. Tom chuckled at the idea that he could ever rise to the position of proprietor of the most famous wizarding pub in London. Today he was content to clean up after the last of the crowds doing their Christmas shopping in Diagon Alley had finally gone home. As he finished cleaning the last table, he heard the door open to let in the sound of the rain pouring down in the dark December evening. He turned to see a dripping cloaked figure standing hesitantly in the door.
"Welcome to the Leaky Cauldron," he called with a nod. "Come in out of the weather, and warm yourself by the fire." The newcomer pushed back the hood of the cloak to reveal a young girl's face. She was plain-featured, and her lank dark hair fell around her face like a second hood. She stared apprehensively at Tom for several moments, her lower lip caught in her teeth and her eyes darting around the room as if searching for danger.
"Don't worry," Tom told the girl. "We're still open, for all that we've got an empty room at this moment." He started toward the girl and held his hand out to her. "Can I take your cloak, miss?"
The girl shrank back, clutching her cloak as if she was afraid Tom would steal it from her. "No, I want to keep it. I-" she said in a voice that was little more than a whisper, before breaking off and dropping her gaze to the floor.
Tom hesitated. Clearly the girl was afraid, and he had no idea why. He studied her for a few moments, then dropped his hand and put on his friendliest smile. "Okay, no problem. At least go and sit by the fire and warm up," he said gently, gesturing to the table nearest the hearth and stepping back to give her room. The girl looked up at him through her lashes, a faint flush coloring her cheeks, but she slowly made her way across the room and sat at the table Tom had indicated.
"Can I get you anything to eat or drink, miss?" he called to her as he made his way over to the bar.
She looked startled at the question, as if surprised that he would offer her anything. "No, thank you," she replied timidly.
"Are you sure?" he asked. "We've got some excellent mulled wine, or hot tea if you prefer. Even some hot chocolate that's sure to warm you up. And there's still some good roast beef left over from the dinner hour."
"No," she sounded almost embarrased as she replied. "I can't."
"Why not?" Tom asked, surprised at her words.
"I don't have any money," she answered, bowing her head in shame. Tom saw a tear course down her cheek, then another. He gazed at her for a moment, then turned and went to the bar. He worked quickly and quietly as the girl sat silently, staring at the fire, her shoulders shaking with suppressed sobs.
She looked up apprehensively when she heard him approaching her table, then stared in amazement as he laid a tray before her. Steam rose from the spout of the teakettle, and the roast beef gave off a wonderful aroma as its juices soaked into the Yorkshire pudding sharing the plate. A heaping pile of buttered peas sat in a small side dish, next to a small plate with shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate.
"I can't pay for-" she started, then paused as Tom raised his hand.
"I know. It's on the house," he replied with a sympathetic smile. "You look like you could use a hot meal. Call it my Christmas present to you." He shook his head as she opened her mouth to protest. "Or call it a smart business move. I can't have you leaving the pub looking famished. People will think there's something wrong with the food here if they see that." He gave the girl a wink as she continued to stare at him, then turned and walked back to the bar.
"Thank you," he heard her say softly, her voice shaking. As Tom rounded the bar and looked back at her, he saw her stand and slip her sodden cloak off. As she turned to hang the cloak on a chair before the fire, he saw her belly distended in the late stages of pregnancy. He turned away again, not wanting her to think he was spying on her, and began to wipe the glasseware before putting it away for the evening. Every few moments, he chanced a quick glance and saw her begin to eat timidly, then ravenously, as if she hadn't eaten in days.
When she finished her meal, Tom came to collect the tray and dishes, and was rewarded with a shy smile. As he lifted the tray, the girl spoke. "Please, sir," she began, then swallowed nervously before continuing, "do you know if there's anywhere nearby that I might be able to sell this?" She held out a large silver locket to him. Green stones formed an ornate S on the front of the pendant, glistening in the firelight.
Tom let out a low whistle; this was clearly an expensive item. "Wow, that's impressive," he told her. "That would fetch you a nice sum, for certain. Are you sure you want to sell it?"
She nodded, blushing. "It's all I have that might be worth anything."
"Well, your best bet would probably be in Diagon Alley. Or maybe Borgin and Burke's down Knockturn Alley, they're always looking for interesting old things like that." He set the tray down on the table, pulled out his wand and cast a spell to dry her cloak. Then he gestured towards the back of the pub. "Come on, I'll show you the way,"
The two of them went out behind the pub, and Tom opened the way into Diagon Alley. "They should still be open if you hurry," he told the girl, then quickly described the route to the shop.
"Thank you, sir," the girl said to him as she stepped into Diagon Alley. "Thank you so much. You're the first person I ever met who was nice to me."
Tom blinked in surprise. What about your baby's father, he wanted to ask, but the girl looked so despondent that Tom decided that the answer might not be a happy one. Instead, he smiled at her. "Well, I'm happy to help when I can. If you need anything when you finish in there, you just come back to the pub and let me know what I can do. My name's Tom, you can ask for me."
"Tom?" she repeated, a strange tone in her voice telling him louder than words that she had a history with another Tom somewhere. She paused, then seemed to shiver and break out of her momentary reverie. "I'll be grateful to you as long as I live. If I could only find more people like you, life might be worth living," she continued with a small smile, still clearly surprised by his actions. She turned and started down the street.
"Hey," Tom called as she moved away. "What's your name, miss?"
"Merope. Merope Riddle," he heard her reply.
"Good luck to you, Merope Riddle!" he called out again as she dissapeared in the rain. "May you find the goodness you need to give you that reason to live," he added quietly before turning and going back into the Leaky Cauldron.
He never saw her again.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
deichrodler
Dec. 20th, 2013 03:33 pm (UTC)
Awww, there it is again.

Thanks for this great entry! :)
twzrd
Dec. 21st, 2013 01:49 pm (UTC)
Nice entry
Enjoyed the writing. Well done, and thanks for sharing it.
fleurdujardin
Dec. 22nd, 2013 03:03 am (UTC)
Way to go, fellow Ravenclaws!
That's a beautiful piece, Ravenclaw House. I'm proud of you!
rlf_2583
Dec. 30th, 2013 12:59 am (UTC)
Wonderful story!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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