- "Harry realised that there was somebody else in the room, a girl whose ragged grey dress was the exact colour of the dirty stone wall behind her... Her hair was lank and dull and she had a plain, pale, rather heavy face. Her eyes, like her brother's, stared in opposite directions. She looked a little cleaner than the two men, but Harry thought he had never seen a more defeated-looking person."
- —Harry Potter looks at Merope in Bob Ogden's memory in the Pensieve[src]
Merope Riddle (née Gaunt), (c. 1907 – 31 December, 1926) was a pure-blood witch, daughter of Marvolo Gaunt, and sister of Morfin. She was a direct descendant of Salazar Slytherin and a Parselmouth. Merope lived in a shack with her father and brother, who mentally and physically abused her. Later on, Merope grew to have an obsessive love for Tom Riddle, a handsome and wealthy Muggle. When both her father and brother were imprisoned, she bewitched and married Tom, but when he recovered, he abandoned her and their unborn son. Merope ended up dying at an orphanage, soon after giving birth to her son, whom she had named Tom Marvolo Riddle. Many years later, her son became the most dangerous Dark wizard of all time.
Merope Gaunt had lived in a shack near Little Hangleton with her father, Marvolo, and brother, Morfin. Generations of inbreeding left the Gaunts violent, mentally unstable, and poverty-stricken. Merope exhibited little magical talent in her early years, and as a result was mentally and physically abused by her father, who called her a "disgusting little Squib", among other things. However, this was actually a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Merope's magical abilities were suppressed largely because of her father's abuse. Based on this, as well as the family's poverty, it is unlikely that Merope attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, though she did have a wand. Merope seemed to be in charge of cooking and cleaning in her family home; it is unknown what happened to her mother.
- "Once Marvolo and Morfin were safely in Azkaban, once she was alone and free for the first time in her life, then, I am sure, she was able to give full rein to her abilities and to plot her escape from the desperate life she had led for eighteen years... The village of Little Hangleton enjoyed a tremendous scandal. You can imagine the gossip it caused when the squire's son ran off with the tramp's daughter, Merope."
- —Albus Dumbledore[src]
At some point in her life, Merope secretly fell in love with Tom Riddle, an exceptionally handsome and wealthy Muggle, and the only child of Thomas and Mary Riddle, who lived nearby. Her father was livid when Morfin revealed this to him, and attacked her physically, but was restrained by Ministry official Bob Ogden. Ogden arrested both Marvolo and Morfin, who had cursed Riddle because his sister found him attractive. With her family gone, Merope made a play for Riddle. She left the shack with a farewell note revealing what she did, and her existence was never again mentioned by Marvolo.
Although Harry Potter, upon learning of these events, speculated that she might have used the Imperius Curse on Riddle, Dumbledore believed that she most probably used a Love Potion because it seemed more romantic. In any case, Riddle became infatuated with her and they were soon married, running away to London together. This caused great scandal in Little Hangleton.
After a year of marriage, Merope Gaunt soon became pregnant and decided to release Riddle from his mental enslavement, having grown tired of living a lie. Dumbledore thought that she did this hoping either that her husband would have truly fallen in love with her by that point, or that he would at least stay for the sake of their unborn child. Unfortunately for her, Riddle did nothing of the kind. Riddle awoke into a nightmare and fled back to his family's home, believing to have been bewitched, although according to Albus Dumbledore, he probably did not say that exactly, for fear of being thought insane.
Childbirth and death
After her husband's sudden abandonment, Merope soon fell into a deep depression and lived as a pauper in London, selling her valuables to survive. Specifically, she sold her locket, a family heirloom, to Caractacus Burke for only ten Galleons, either not knowing that it was a priceless artefact or just simply no longer caring. Her heart broken and her dreams in tatters, Merope stopped using magic altogether after Riddle's desertion, not even willing to raise her wand to save her own life (although, according to Dumbledore, her powers may have been sapped as a result of depression).
On New Year's Eve of 1926, Merope entered labour. She stumbled into an orphanage, and gave birth to a son. She told Mrs. Cole, a woman who worked in the orphanage, to name him Tom for his father, Marvolo for her father, and Riddle to be his surname. Tom Marvolo Riddle, according to Mrs. Cole, specifically, Marvolo was a "funny name", and she wondered whether Merope had come from a circus. Merope Gaunt died within an hour, and her last words were a final wish that her son would turn out to look like his father, which Mrs. Cole said that she was right to hope it as Merope was no beauty.
It is unknown what happened to Merope's body after her death.
Years later, her son would find it difficult to believe that she could have been a witch, as she succumbed to something as mortal as death. It seems she was too depressed to use magic, after Tom Riddle Sr let alone concern herself with carrying on with her life. Her son would grow up believing his father married Merope of his own free will, only leaving her after discovering she was a witch. Although Merope had a choice, she chose death in spite of a son that needed her due to the utterly miserable existence to which she had been condemned. Merope's son would ultimately grow up to become the most dangerous Dark wizard of all time, Lord Voldemort. It was due to Merope subjugating her husband and their unborn child being conceived under coercion, as well as Merope's choice of refusing to live on to love and care for her son, that Tom Riddle was unable to understand the concept of love, a symbolic representation of the result of a loveless union.
Physical descriptionMerope had lank, dull hair and a pale, heavy face with eyes that looked in opposite directions. She kept herself cleaner than either her father or her brother, but was very defeated-looking. She is described to be wearing grey clothes that blend in with stone walls when she lives in the Gaunt household.
Personality and traits
- "...when her husband abandoned her, Merope stopped using magic. I do not think that she wanted to be a witch any longer. Of course, it is also possible that her unrequited love and the attendant despair sapped her of her powers; that can happen. In any case...Merope refused to raise her wand even to save her own life."
- —Albus Dumbledore talking to Harry Potter and reflecting on Merope's death[src]
Merope was physically and emotionally abused by her family, and as a result was timid and miserable for most of her life, traumatized to the point of being unable to perform magic. She grew bolder and happier once Marvolo and Morfin were sent to Azkaban, and displayed enough cunning and magical skill to brew a love potion. She loved Tom Riddle Sr. rather obsessively, given the lengths to which she went to obtain his affection and her depression after he left her.
Even the responsibility of having a baby to look after was not enough to give Merope the will to live after her husband abandoned her. Having lived an almost entirely miserable life, Merope had no hope left and not enough courage to make her want to keep trying, even for the sake of her newborn son. This decision had a dramatically negative impact on her son's psyche. According to Albus Dumbledore, one should still not judge her too harshly, as she had been greatly weakened by long suffering and she never had the courage of Lily Evans, Harry Potter's mother, who sacrificed herself willingly for her son.
Magical abilities and skills
- Parselmouth: Like her brother, father, and famous ancestor, Merope had the ability to talk to snakes.
- Dark Arts (Possibly): Harry Potter initially speculated that Merope used the Imperius Curse (which requires a powerful bit of magic to perform) to control Tom Riddle to fall in love with her. It is not improbable because of the history of its use within her family.
- Potioneer (Possibly): Albus Dumbledore speculated that Merope used a Love Potion to have Tom Riddle fall in love with her, contracting Harry's earlier thought on the usage of the Imperius Curse, as the potion would seem more romantic. Dumbledore thought that it would be easy for Merope to persuade Riddle to have a drink of water containing a love potion on a hot day.
- Love: Merope was one of the few members of her family who could feel true and unconditional love, as displayed by her love for Tom Riddle, Sr., a Muggle man, despite her family's traditional beliefs about Muggles. However, her love borders on obsession, to the point where she would use magic to subjugate her target, which was what led to her downfall and loss of powers when she naively and incorrectly believed her love would be reciprocated if she freed him of such enslavement. It was due to this that her magical powers were sapped when her love abandoned her and she fell into depression.
- Morfin Gaunt: "She likes looking at that Muggle. Always in the garden when he passes, peering through the hedge at him, isn't she? And last night —"
- Marvolo Gaunt: "Is it true? My daughter – pure-blooded descendant of Salazar Slytherin – hankering after a filthy, dirt-veined Muggle?"
- — Morfin and Marvolo Gaunt discussing Merope's infatuation with Tom Riddle Sr. in Parseltongue.[src]
Merope's relationship with her father and brother was a violent one. Her father, Marvolo, placed the utmost importance on his heritage, leading him to be derisive of his daughter's seeming lack of magical ability and furious with her infatuation with a Muggle, all the while treating her like a slave, forcing her to do all the housework. Morfin also made fun of Merope's romantic feelings for Tom Riddle, and laughed while watching Marvolo abusing her.
She was physically and emotionally abused by her family, and as a result was timid and miserable for most of her life, traumatized to the point of being unable to perform magic. Upon discovering that Merope was a blood traitor, Marvolo went as far as to attempt to murder her in front of a Ministry official. She grew bolder and happier once Marvolo and Morfin were sent to Azkaban, and displayed enough cunning and magical skill to brew a love potion. However, Marvolo was shocked when he learned that Merope had left the house, despite never loving her to begin with, and never mentioned her name or existence ever again, and this was probably a shock that led to his death (or possibly due to Merope no longer feeding him, as he never learned to feed himself). Morfin then felt that Merope had betrayed him and Marvolo, for marrying that "filthy Muggle".
Tom Riddle Sr.
- "I believe that Merope, who was deeply in love with her husband, could not bear to continue enslaving him by magical means. I believe that she made the choice to stop giving him the potion. Perhaps, besotted as she was, she had convinced herself that he would by now have fallen in love with her in return. Perhaps she thought he would stay for the baby's sake. If so, she was wrong on both counts. He left her, never saw her again, and never troubled to discover what became of his son."
- —Albus Dumbledore on Merope's tragic relationship with Tom Riddle Sr.[src]
Tom Riddle was a handsome and wealthy Muggle, who lived near Merope's house. He originally looked down and made fun of Merope and her family because of their poverty, their strange shabby appearances, and their exceptional disabilities. Merope then used a Love Potion on Tom, making them go on a runaway marriage, and she eventually became pregnant with Tom's child. However, as Dumbledore had theorized, Merope, who was deeply, truly in love with her husband, could not bear to continue enslaving him by magical means, and made the choice to stop giving him the potion, convincing herself that he might have truly fallen in love with her of his own accord, or even if he had not, he would stay with her for their child's sake. This turned out to be a fatal mistake. The indifferent, insensitive, and self-involved Tom left his wife and unborn son, claiming he had been "hoodwinked" and "taken in". It was speculated among his neighbours that he had been tricked into thinking he was the father of her unborn child. Merope was heartbroken and devastated by this abandonment, to the point of losing the will to live, and later died giving birth to his son.
Tom Marvolo Riddle
- "I remember she said to me 'I hope he looks like his papa', and I won't lie she was right to hope it, because she was no beauty — and then she told me he was to be named Tom, for his father, and Marvolo, for her father — yes, I know, funny name, isn't it? We wondered whether she came from a circus — and she said the boy's surname was to be Riddle. And she died soon after that without another word."
- —Mrs. Cole to Albus Dumbledore.[src]
After marrying Tom Riddle Sr., Merope became pregnant with her first and only child, Tom Marvolo Riddle. After her husband left her, finally being freed from the influence of the Love Potion, Merope became depressed, and when her child was born, she died soon afterwards, not wishing to live anymore, and not wanting to use magic to save her life. She told Mrs. Cole that she wanted her son to be called Tom, after his father, Marvolo, after Merope's father and that the child's last name was to be Riddle. Merope also hoped that her son looked like his father. Merope got her wish; Tom Marvolo Riddle was described as looking very like his father, who was very good looking.
Tom Riddle grew up at Wool's Orphanage, not knowing about his family members. When Albus Dumbledore visited Tom, and told him that he was a wizard, Tom hoped that it came from his father, but was disappointed to find that he got it from the maternal side of his family, when he was told by his uncle, Morfin Gaunt, that it was his mother who was a witch, and his father was a Muggle. He stole his uncle's wand, then killed his father, grandmother and grandfather, returned Morfin's wand, then stole the Gaunt family heirloom ring, framing Morfin for the crime.
It was due to Merope's choice of losing her will to live that she never had a chance to give Tom the love and care he desperately required, leading him to grow up to become a being completely unable to understand the concept of love, thus leading him to repeatedly tear apart his soul, and eventually his death lead him to an eternally crippled state in limbo.
Merope is the name of a star in the star cluster Pleiades, named for a daughter of Atlas and Pleione in Greek mythology. This Merope was a nymph who married a mortal, Sisyphus, and bore him a son, Glaucus; some myths say that she is the dullest of the seven stars because she brought shame upon herself for marrying a mortal. Merope Gaunt's marriage to a Muggle may be an allusion to this marriage, as both suffered a resulting "fading away", and both Meropes faced mortality after their respective marriages. Also, Merope of mythology was the seventh sister, and seven is the most magically powerful number, perhaps alluding to her incredibly powerful son, who would later plan to split his soul into seven pieces in an attempt to achieve immortality.
The name is also used in the famous Greek play, Oedipus Rex, written by Sophocles in 425 BC. The name, Merope, is given to the main character's adoptive mother. As in Oedipus Rex, the son of Merope in the Harry Potter series killed his father.
Behind the scenes
- Merope and her family were cut from the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
- J. K. Rowling has said that if Merope had lived and raised Voldemort, he would have turned out to be very different, probably a better person.
- In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Marvolo Gaunt's ring is said to have belonged to Merope, while Marvolo and Morfin Gaunt aren't even mentioned. However, in a deleted scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Harry tells Ron and Hermione Granger that the ring belonged to Marvolo and that the locket belonged to Merope.
- It can be said that Merope died of a broken heart as she gave up trying to live after her husband, Tom Riddle Sr., had left her.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (First mentioned) (Indirectly mentioned as Riddle's mother)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (First appearance) (Appears in flashback(s)) (First identified as Merope Gaunt)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (film) (Mentioned as "Voldemort's mother")
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (Mentioned in a deleted scene as "Tom's mother")