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Merope Riddle

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"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's description of Merope[src]

Merope Riddle[2] (née Gaunt) (c. 190731 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 grew up in a shack near Little Hangleton with her father Marvolo and brother Morfin, whom were both mentally and physically abusive. Merope developed an obsessive love for Tom Riddle, a handsome and wealthy Muggle. After both her father and brother were imprisoned in Azkaban she bewitched and married Tom. A year into their marriage he recovered and abandoned her and their unborn child. Merope ended up alone in London and later died at Wool's Orphanage, soon after giving birth to her son whom she had named Tom Marvolo Riddle.

Many years after her death, her son, with the name of Lord Voldemort became the most dangerous Dark Wizard of all time.


Early lifeEdit

"Pick it up! That's it, grub on the floor like some filthy Muggle, what's your wand for, you useless sack of muck?"
—Marvolo's verbal abuse of Merope after she drops a pot[src]
Bob Ogden Gaunt Shack

Bob Ogden visiting the Gaunt shack in the 1920s

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. It should be noted that a person's magical abilities can be effected by their state of mind and powerful negative emotions endured on a chronic basis can interfere with or completely drain a person's powers as Albus Dumbledore points out. By extension, it can be inferred that Merope had magical powers, but had never really used them nor developed them.

However, Merope's magical ability flourished after her father and brother were incarcerated in Azkaban and she was free from their abuse; she showed herself capable of significant magic, enslaving Tom Riddle either with the Imperius Curse or a Love Potion for an extended period of time.[3] It is unlikely that Merope attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, though she did have a wand; it seems likely that she was taught magic at home. Another possibility is that Merope disciplined herself to the extent to become self-taught, arguably taking posthumous tutelage from Zygmunt Budge by getting herself a copy of the Book of Potions, which is the most likely explanation for proving herself an adept novice potioneer. 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 regarding how Merope was able to bewitch Tom Riddle[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 in the summer of 1925, 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 manipulated Riddle into marrying her. She left the shack with a farewell note revealing her marriage to Riddle, 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 or a Love Potion on Riddle, Dumbledore believed that she most likely used a Love Potion because it seemed more romantic. Dumbledore also speculated that Merope got hired alongside Frank Bryce on the Riddle estate ostensibly to earn a living, but covertly to get close to Tom Riddle Snr, in which she could administer the love potion to him while mixing it with water or some other beverage. In any case, Riddle became infatuated with her and they were married in late 1925, running away to London together. This caused great scandal in Little Hangleton.[4]

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 deathEdit

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 in order to gain some gold. Specifically, she sold her locket, a family heirloom which was one of her father’s most treasured ones, to Caractacus Burke for only ten Galleons, either not knowing that it was a priceless artefact, no longer caring, or a desire to sever ties with her abusive father and valuing the paltry profits much more than the painful reminder of her family. With 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, it was also possible that her powers may have been sapped as a result of depression and also because of her unrequited love for Riddle. Nymphadora Tonks went through a similar rut with her powers for a very similar reason in 1996 - 1997).

On the night of New Year's Eve in 1926 (as described by Mrs Cole), she stumbled into an orphanage, then staggering up the front steps of the orphanage and was ready to give birth to a son. She told Mrs Cole, a woman who worked in the orphanage (who was the matron), 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 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 since Merope was no beauty. This specific cause of her death is not stated.

It is unknown what happened to Merope’s body after her death; However, as she had no family network to identify her corpse or mourn her, Merope's earthly remains were presumably interred by a Muggle funeral director and paid for by a Muggle charity.


"Merope Riddle chose death in spite of a son who needed her, but do not judge her too harshly, Harry. She was greatly weakened by long suffering and she never had your mother's courage."
Albus Dumbledore regarding Merope's choice to die[src]

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; he was, however, forced to accept that she was indeed a witch once finding nothing of "Tom Riddle" in the history of Hogwarts. It seems she was too depressed to use magic after Riddle abandoned her. 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. These circumstances caused even Harry Potter to feel a twinge of reluctant sympathy for Riddle. Merope's son would ultimately grow up to become the most dangerous Dark wizard of all time, Lord Voldemort.[4] Albus Dumbledore hypothisised that if Merope had hung on, and been there to express love and affection for her son, Voldemort may have never come to be.

Physical descriptionEdit

Merope had lank, dull hair and a plain, pale, and heavy face with eyes that stared in opposite directions, like her brother's did, which suggests a strabismus disorder. She seemed to keep herself cleaner than her father and brother, but when Harry first saw her in a memory, he still thought of her as the most defeated-looking person he had ever seen.

When she lived in the Gaunt household, she wore a ragged grey dress that blended in with the stone walls of the house, and her only adornment was Salazar Slytherin's Locket, which hung from a gold chain around her neck. Mrs Cole also described her to be "no beauty".

Personality and traitsEdit

" [...] 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, traumatised to the point of being unable to perform magic well. She could perform magic, but having been terrified of her father and brother, lacked confidence; thus, her magic was haphazard at best. However, she grew bolder and happier once Marvolo and Morfin were sent to Azkaban and displayed enough cunning and magical skill to manipulate the man she was in love with into marrying her. By extension, she seems to have also been able to effectively manipulate her husband when he was under her control as to prevent him from becoming suspicious about the truth of their marriage and resisting her. She loved Tom Riddle Snr obsessively, given the lengths to which she went to obtain his affection and her morbid depression after he left. Even the responsibility of having a baby to look after was not enough to give Merope the will to live. After living her wish to be with the person she loves for a while, her obsession seemed to have grew into a desire for a genuine affectionate relationship as opposed to living a lie any further; she ceased her enslavement of Tom in hopes that he would have truly fallen in love with her, or at least remain for their unborn child. Her naivety proved to be her undoing, as Tom returned to his rude and snobbish nature, and even revolted at Merope as he fled.

Having lived a life where she had always been miserable, Merope had no hope left and could not find the 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 not judge her too harshly, as she had been greatly weakened by long suffering which resulted in her choosing to die instead of staying alive for her son, and she never had the courage and inner-strength of Lily Evans, Harry Potter's mother, who sacrificed herself willingly for her son.

One reason as to why Merope chose to seek out a muggle location to give birth rather then to seek sanctuary with other witches/wizards may also have been influenced by the miserable life she had lived up-unto that point; it's likely that after everything that had happened, and now so traumatised to the point of being unable to perform magic, Merope came to view magic as having been the root of all her problems in life one way or another (her father's treatment of her her whole life, etc.), and that her choice to go to a muggle orphanage over Saint Mungo's after she'd already gone into labour may have been a final act of love on her part, wanting her unborn child as far from Wizardkind as she could get.

It is possible that Harry Potter came to have respect for Merope, because of her having different beliefs of blood purity since she fell in love and eloped with a Muggle, while Harry, on the other hand hated her father and brother and most likely felt sorry for her since she had a miserable life.

Magical abilities and skillsEdit

Harry Potter: "The Imperious Curse? Or a love potion?"
Albus Dumbledore: "Very good. Personally, I am inclined to think that she used a love potion."
Harry and Dumbledore's speculations regarding Merope[src]
  • Parselmouth: Like her famous ancestor, father, and brother, Merope had the ability to talk to snakes, which she later passed on to her son.
  • Dark Arts (possibly): Harry Potter initially speculated that Merope used the Imperius Curse (which requires a powerful bit of magic to perform effectively) to control Tom Riddle to fall in love with her. It is not improbable because of the history of Dark Arts within her family.
  • Potions (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. Being able to brew an effective love potion indicates that Merope was actually a skilled potioneer, which remains unexplained if she did not attend Hogwarts.
  • 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 Snr, 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 — Hanging out of the window waiting for him to ride home, wasn't she?"
Marvolo Gaunt: "Is it true? My daughter — pure-blooded descendant of Salazar Slytherin — hankering after a filthy, dirt-veined Muggle?"
Morfin and Marvolo discussing Merope's infatuation with Tom Riddle Snr in Parseltongue[src]

Merope's relationship with her father and brother was a violent one where they treated her more like a slave than family, and forced her to do all the housework. Her father, Marvolo, who placed the utmost importance on his heritage, tended to use words such as "squib" as putdowns and to make insinuations about blood status when as a form of insult. Marvolo became furious with Merope's infatuation with a Muggle leading to the involvement of authorities and a stint in prison. Morfin made fun of Merope's romantic feelings for Tom Riddle, and laughed while watching Marvolo abuse her.

She was physically and emotionally abused by her family, and as a result was timid and miserable for most of her life, traumatised 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 Snr.Edit

"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 regarding Merope's tragic relationship with Tom Riddle Snr[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, and the two eloped, she eventually became pregnant with Tom's child.

Dumbledore had theorised that 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 RiddleEdit

"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 describes Merope's death to Albus Dumbledore[src]
Tom Riddle (11 years old)

Merope's son, Tom Riddle was raised in an orphanage

After marrying Tom Riddle Snr, 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, although the difference being Tom had done so out of premeditated malice, whereas Oedipus had done so through a misconstrued prophecy that he would do so, and placed himself into exile as he resolved never to harm his kindly parents, King Polybus and Queen Merope. Getting into a fight with King Laius of Thebes, Oedipus fought back and struck Laius dead, never knowing Laius was his true father (until much later in his life).

Behind the scenesEdit

  • 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.[5]
  • 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.[6]
  • It can be said that Merope died of a broken heart as she gave up trying to live after her husband, Tom Riddle Snr, had left her.
  • Merope's infatuation with Tom Riddle Snr seems to mirror that of Bellatrix Lestrange's with their son
  • Both Merope and her granddaughter, Delphini, would grow up in unhappy households and would not attend Hogwarts
  • It is possible that she used both the Imperius Curse and the Love Potion. As Dumbledore theorises, Tom Riddle accepted a drink spiked with Love Potion from Merope on a hot day. It is unlikely for a man of Tom Riddle's status to accept a drink from a tramp such as Merope, so Merope would have had to Imperius Tom Riddle first and then persuade him to drink it. Another explanation may have been that Merope was hired by Mary and Thomas Riddle as their maid in order for her to earn a living after the incarceration of the Gaunt men, and as such she was more familiar to Tom Riddle, who would have accepted a drink from her as he was under the impression Merope was working as a dutiful housegirl. 


Notes and referencesEdit

  1. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 10 (The House of Gaunt), we learn that Tom Riddle was born a year after Merope Gaunt and Tom Riddle Snr's marriage. As we know Riddle was born in 1926, this would place the marriage in 1925. In the same chapter, we learn that the incident with Bob Ogden took place in the summer of 1925 and the imprisonment of Marvolo and Morfin was "a few months" before the marriage. As Dumbledore stated she was eighteen years old at the time of Marvolo and Morfin's imprisonment, she was born around 1907.
  2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 13 (The Secret Riddle) - “Your mother had a choice too,” said Dumbledore gently. “Yes, Merope Riddle chose death in spite of a son who needed her, but do not judge her too harshly, Harry.
  3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 10 (The House of Gaunt)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 13 (The Secret Riddle)

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