At least some content in this article is derived from information featured in Harry Potter: Magic Awakened. As such, spoilers will be present within the article.
Merope Riddle (née Gaunt) (c. 1907 – 31 December, 1926) was a British 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 squalor ridden shack near Little Hangleton, with her father Marvolo and brother Morfin. Both of them were mentally and physically abusive towards her.
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, getting pregnant. A year into their marriage, Tom Riddle was liberated from the effects of her magic and fled. Merope ended up alone in London and later died at Wool's Orphanage, soon after giving birth to her son whom she named Tom Marvolo Riddle.
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 affected 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 pointed 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. It is unlikely that Merope attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, though she did own 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. Merope seemed to be in charge of cooking and cleaning in her family home; it is unknown what happened to her mother.
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 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.
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. Instead, the villagers were told at most that he had been "taken in", in which they interpreted that Merope lied to Tom about being pregnant with his child.
- "New Year's Eve and bitter cold, snowing, you know. Nasty night. And this girl, not much older than I was myself at the time, came staggering up the front steps. Well, she wasn't the first. We took her in, and she had the baby within the hour. And she was dead in another hour."
- — The night Merope died from heartbreak and long-term suffering[src]
After her husband's sudden escape, 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).
On the night of New Year's Eve in 1926, she staggered up the front steps of an orphanage, ready to give 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. Mrs Cole believed Marvolo was a "funny name", and wondered whether Merope had come from a circus.
Merope died without warning, 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. It is unknown what happened to Merope’s body after her death.
Years later, her own son would find it difficult to believe that she could ever 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 left her when the effects of her magic wore off on him.
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.
Albus Dumbledore hypothesised that if Merope had hung on, and been there to express love and affection for her son, Voldemort might never have come to be. Nevertheless, Dumbledore and Harry did not resent her, as they understood that given her suffering and lack of inner strength, she could not in good conscience be blamed for her son's corruption. Her son, while contemptuous for her mortal weakness, killed her husband partly out of the misguided belief he was avenging her death.
Merope possessed lank and dull hair. Her hair framed a plain, pale, and heavy face. Her eyes (like her brother's) stared in opposite directions. 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 traits
- "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."
- — Reflection on Merope's choice to die[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. Her obsession seemed to have grown 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 felt nothing for his captor, and fled to never return.
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. Despite this making Merope responsible for the creation of the most dangerous dark wizard of all time, both Albus Dumbledore and (reluctantly) Harry Potter sympathised with her upbringing and did not bear her a grudge for it, with Dumbledore stating 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 point as to why Merope may have chosen to seek out a Muggle location to give birth rather than to seek sanctuary with other witches/wizards may also have been influenced by the miserable life she had lived up to 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 choosing 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 magical people as she could get.
Magical abilities and skills
- Harry Potter: "The Imperius Curse? Or a love potion?"
- Albus Dumbledore: "Very good. Personally, I am inclined to think that she used a love potion."
- — Speculations regarding Merope's abilities[src]
Initially, Merope appeared to be an unskilled witch. Whilst living with her abusive father and brother, she produced poor magic, more often than not preferring to cook and clean without it, leading her father to refer to her as a Squib. However, once she was freed of her abusive relatives, Merope had much more success with magic, proving to be at least a decent witch with some notable skills.
- 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 Riddle, without the love potion being given to him, left her and she fell into depression.
- 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 initially speculated that Merope used the Imperius Curse (which requires powerful magic to be effectively cast) to compel Tom Riddle to fall in love with her. Due to the history of Dark Arts within her family, this was not improbable.
- Potions (possibly): Dumbledore and Harry speculated that Merope had used a love potion to make Tom Riddle fall in love with her. If so, this would have proven that Merope was a talented potioneer, being able to brew an effective love potion.
- 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?"
- — Discussion of Merope's infatuation with Tom Riddle Snr[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".
Despite a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her father, Merope did give her son her father's name as a middle name, showing she might have had lingering affections for her father, sentiments that were not reciprocated. An alternative explanation could be that Merope chose to name her son "Tom Marvolo Riddle" because she was likely reflecting on her life in her dying moments, and "Tom" and "Marvolo" were among the few male names that came to mind. This could be due to her Gaunt upbringing leaving her with very few men in her life to truly interact with aside from Marvolo and Morfin before her marriage.
Tom Riddle Snr.
- "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."
- — Merope's tragic relationship with Tom Riddle Snr[src]
Tom Riddle was a handsome and wealthy Muggle, who lived near Merope's house. Like many people in Little Hangleton, Tom looked on with disdain on her father and brother, because of their poverty, their strange shabby appearances, and antisocial tendencies to those around them. Tom's only mention of Merope, was briefly mentioning to his Darling Cecilia that Marvolo had two kids. Though Tom didn't seem to give Merope any thoughts, positive or negative, it was known that Merope was deeply enamoured by Riddle, and spied on him as he often rode by their house.
Tom may have tolerated Merope's presence to an extent, as Dumbledore theorised that she was able to convince him into drinking a Love Potion on a hot day. Regardless 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; Tom, feeling as if he'd woken up from a nightmare, immediately escaped Merope to never return, 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, to the point of losing the will to live, and later died shortly after 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."
- — Description of Merope's death[src]
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 after considerable research of the school registry he could not find Tom Riddle Senior as a Hogwarts alumnus. After getting an incomplete story of his parents from his uncle Morfin Gaunt, Riddle flew in a rage. 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 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 chosen to live for the sake of raising Voldemort, he would have turned out to be very different, probably a better person.
- Alternatively, the same may be applied if Voldemort had been adopted and then raised in a loving environment, or if Tom Riddle Senior gained awareness of his son's existence and made efforts to raise him.
- 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 despair as she gave up trying to live after her husband, Tom Riddle Snr, had left.
- It is unknown how Voldemort viewed his mother, but it would appear he had a low opinion of her, thinking her to be a weak witch if she died so easily after his birth.
- 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.
- Merope forcing Riddle to marry her by a love potion for the conception of their son, in addition to Merope's belief that Riddle was obligated to love her now simply due to that they had a child is symbolic for Voldemort's inability to understand love as it was due to betwitchment rather than true love, directing the Riddle Jnr's entire life to achieving immortality and absolute power by sinking into the deepest concept of the Dark Arts (Horcruxes) and resurface as the darkest wizard of the 20th century, Lord Voldemort.
- Voldemort's mother's one-sided possessive desire for his father and Riddle only being with Merope due to magic can be contrasted with the mutual love of Harry's parents, James and Lily Potter, both of whom were willing to do everything for the other's happiness instead of their own. Merope giving up on life when she lost control of Riddle Snr rather than live for the sake of her son is also contrasted with Lily losing first her husband and then her own life immediately afterwards in their tandem effort to protect Harry from Voldemort.
- 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 Riddle)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (film) (Mentioned as "Voldemort's mother")
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (Mentioned in a deleted scene as "Tom's mother")
- Wizarding World
- Harry Potter: Magic Awakened (Mentioned in History of Magic classes)
Notes and references
- 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 Senior'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 Albus Dumbledore stated she was eighteen years old at the time of Marvolo and Morfin's imprisonment, she was born around 1907.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 10 (The House of Gaunt) - "“My daughter — pure-blooded descendant of Salazar Slytherin — hankering after a filthy, dirt-veined Muggle?”"
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 10 (The House of Gaunt) - "“Don’t you go talking to us as if we’re dirt on your shoes! Generations of purebloods, wizards all — more than you can say, I don’t doubt!”"
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 10 (The House of Gaunt)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 10 (The House of Gaunt) - "Her hair was lank and dull and she had a plain, pale, rather heavy face."
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 10 (The House of Gaunt) - "Merope raised her head. Her face, Harry saw, was starkly white. ... Merope was so white Harry felt sure she was going to faint."
- 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.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 13 (The Secret Riddle)
- 30 July, 2007 Bloomsbury webchat