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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 about Merope.

Merope Riddle (nee Gaunt) is a minor but significant character in the Harry Potter series. She was the mother of Tom Marvolo Riddle, who later became Lord Voldemort, the most evil wizard who has ever lived. Merope was also a direct descendant of Salazar Slytherin, one of the last surviving members of the Gaunt Family and the paternal grandmother of Delphini.

Despite having died many years before the events of Harry Potter's life, as well as being a rather tragic (and arguably sympathetic) character, Merope is never the less an antagonist. One that left a huge impact on the magical community. Were it not for her, the Wizarding Wars and the innumerable tragedies associated with them, might never have happened.

Biograph

Early Life

Merope Gaunt was born to Marvolo Gaunt and his unnamed wife at some point in 1907. She was the youngest of their two children and had an older brother called Morfin. By the 1920's Merope's mother (who was Marvolo's cousin) had disappeared. It is not known whether she had died or left the family, but the former seems more likely. Like the rest of the Gaunts, Merope was a Parselmouth, which meant that she could talk to snakes.

The Gaunt Family were very impoverished, living in a small shack on the outskirts of Little Hangleton, a muggle village. The only things of value within their household were Cadmus Peverell's ring, which unbeknownst to the family held the Resurrection Stone, and Salazar Slytherin's personal locket. Marvolo was noted to value both of these items more than his daughter.

It is not known whether Merope and her brother ever attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but this seems very unlikely. Although she had acquired a wand by her adult years Merope could not perform magic very well. This led to her being both physically and emotionally abused by her family. Marvolo even went so far as to wonder whether or not she was a Squib (the name given to the non-magical offspring of wizards and witches). In reality however, Merope was actually a very talented witch. She just couldn't perform magic properly due to the trauma she suffered at home. As such, Merope felt unloved and craved affection.

At some point, Merope Gaunt became infatuate with a local muggle boy named Tom Riddle. Tom was the heir and only son of Mr. and Mrs. Riddle, wealthy land owners who lived in a large manor house within riding distance of the Gaunt's hovel. Naturally, Merope did her best to keep her feelings hidden, because her father and brother were both Pure-Blood extremists, with a deep hatred for muggles. Unfortunately, in the 1920's, her secret was discovered, which would change her life forever.

Bob Ogdin's Visit

On an unspecified date in the summer of 1925, Morfin caught Merope staring at Tom Riddle through the hedge in their garden. In response he cast a spell upon Tom causing him to break out in painful hives. This illegal use of magic resulted in the Ministry of Magic pressing charges against Morfin.

Bob Ogden, a representative from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement came to the Gaunt shack in order to present Morfin with a summons. Whilst Marvolo kept Morfin in check, Merope kept to herself, focusing on the washing up and did not utter a word throughout the meeting. Nevertheless, Odgen spoke kindly to her, going so far as to help her mend a broken frying pan and chastising Marvolo for the way he treated her.

As Ogden prepared to leave however, the four magic users heard a commotion outside. The now completely healed Tom Riddle was riding by, in the company of his girlfriend Cecilia. Recognizing a golden opportunity to cause more trouble, Morfin (speaking in Parseltongue) deliberately told his father about Merope's infatuation with the Riddle, in spite of his sister's silent protest. Shocked and outraged to learn that his daughter was in love with a muggle, Marvolo Gaunt seized Merope by the throat and tried to strangle her.

Horrified, Bob Odgen used magic to knock Marvolo away from his daughter. This prompted Morfin to once again attack the Ministry representative, but Ogden escaped. Shocked by what he had seen and realizing that Merope could be in mortal danger, Ogden apparated straight back to the Ministry and returned to the shack with reinforcements within fifteen minutes. Marvolo and Morfin both put up a fight, but were ultimately overpowered and arrested. This stint, coupled with Morfin's previous attacks on Muggle's, earned the father and son six months and three years in Azkaban respectively.

As she had done nothing wrong, Ogden and the other Ministry officials left Merope be. Satisfied that she was safe, they left her to her own devices. Unfortunately, this simple act of kindness would not only have fatal consequences for Merope, but come back to haunt the wizarding world.

Marriage

With her father and brother gone, Merope Gaunt was free for the first time in her life. In the absence of her abusive family, she found that she could use magic a lot more easily, discovering a previously unknown talent. Having had enough of her cruel lot in life, Merope, who knew she only had a limited amount of time before her father returned, began formulating a plan to escape from the cruel household forever. Whilst she could have simply run away and started afresh elsewhere, Merope ultimately refused to renounce her feelings for Tom Riddle. On the contrary, Merope decided that after everything she had been through, she deserved to be happy and was entitled to his affections. Thus, as part of her scheme, Merope decided to make him hers and hers alone.

What exactly happened in the late half of 1925 is not known, but not long after her father and brothers arrest, Tom Riddle became absolutely smitten with Merope. Ultimately, he left his girlfriend Cecilia, married the young Gaunt and eloped with her. The marriage was met with huge disapproval and caused a local scandal, but Merope did not seem to care about this. Having gotten the man of her dreams, she drafted a final note of farewell to her father and brother, then left the Gaunt Shack and Little Hangleton never to return. The pair moved to London, where they remained together for at least three months.

Many years later, Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore realized that Merope had enchanted Riddle somehow, in order to keep him bound to her. They guessed that she either used the Imperius Curse or, more likely, tricked him into drinking a love potion. Whatever method she used, Merope was careful to keep her husband under the influence of the spell/potion throughout their marriage. Then in March 1926, Merope discovered that she was pregnant with Tom's child, a revelation that no doubt delighted her.

Those few months were undoubtedly the happiest in Merope's life, but unfortunately the joy would not last. Unlike her kinsman, Merope Riddle had a conscience and a strong desire to be loved sincerely. Whilst the potion/spell had given her what she always wanted, i.e. a loving family of her own, Merope loved her husband very much and wanted him to love her of his own free will. As such, she eventually decided to lift the enchantment. She hoped that once freed, Tom would now return her affection and be delighted to learn that he was a father to be. In the event that did not happen, Merope assumed that Tom would do the honorable thing and stay for the sake of his child.

This hope however, turned out to be misplaced and forlorn. What exactly happened is not known, but after coming to his senses, Tom Riddle reacted very badly to his situation. It is not known what words were exchanged between husband and wife, but Merope either told Tom enough for him to figure out what had happened or he managed to work it out on his own. Far from being loving or understanding, Tom was justifiably and understandably furious at what Merope had done to him. Ultimately, whether through actions or words, Riddle made it very clear that he did not love Merope, that their "marriage" was over and that he wanted nothing to do with her or their unborn child.

Thus, within a few months of his runaway marriage, Tom Riddle returned to Little Hangleton and his parents. Tom knew that he could not tell anybody the truth about what really happened, since no one would believe him. Knowing that he would be thought insane and institutionalized if he suggested that Merope was a witch, Riddle told his parents that he had been "hoodwinked" and "taken in". Word of this reached the village, whose residents took it to mean that Merope had deceived Tom in some fashion. In the end, they concluded that Merope had lied to Tom about being pregnant with his child, thus tricking him into the marriage.

Morfin Gaunt inevitably heard about what happened following his release from Azkaban. Ultimately, the evil man considered Riddle's abandonment justice for Merope's actions against their family and the "theft" of Slytherin's prized locket. Meanwhile, the oblivious Thomas and Mary Riddle forgave their son and welcomed him back home. Tom Riddle would never see his wife again. Nor did he learn about what happened to his son until their fateful encounter seventeen years later, in 1943.

Childbirth and Death

With Tom gone, Merope Riddle was left alone and destitute. Heartbroken, unemployed, impoverished and barely able to take care of herself, she stayed in London, knowing full well that she could never return to Little Hangleton again lest she face Riddle, his parents, the villagers and more importantly her own family. The loss of her husband and his unrequited love, had a profound effect upon Merope magical abilities as well. She either became unwilling or unable to use magic again, not even to save her own life.

It is not known what Merope did or where she stayed throughout this period, but she ultimately managed to see her pregnancy through. To survive, Merope sold off what little valuables she had left in order to keep both herself and her unborn child alive. This eventually included Salazar Slytherin's locket, which she sold to Caractacus Burke in Knockturn Alley. Burke swindled the young woman, giving Merope (who did not know or care about the lockets true value) the measly sum of ten galleons, despite knowing full well that the locket was priceless.

On 31st December 1926, tired and disheveled Merope Riddle staggered onto the steps of Wool's muggle orphanage. Within an hour, she had given birth to a healthy baby boy. Afterwards she told one of the staff members, Mrs. Cole, to name her son Tom Marvolo Riddle, Tom for his father, Marvolo for her father and Riddle for herself.

According to what Mrs. Cole told Albus Dumbledore in 1937, Merope's last words were that she hoped her son would grow up to look like his father. Merope Riddle ultimately died less than an hour after giving birth, bringing about an end to her short, tragic life. It is not known what happened to her body.

Legacy

Following his mothers death, Tom Riddle Jr., would be raised in the orphanage. He was never adopted and later developed a reputation as a bully. Despite growing up in a muggle environment, he was eventually discovered and allowed to join Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There he learnt the skills that would eventually allow him to become Lord Voldemort, the most powerful and evil dark wizard of all time.

Despite Merope's absence, she never the less passed several skills onto her son. This included a talent for magic and the ability to speak Parseltongue. Most importantly, since Voldemort had been conceived through a love potion rather than genuine affection, he was born without the ability to feel love himself. This inability to understand compassion or care for another human being was one reason that Riddle was so willing to commit mass murder in his later life.

Even before finding out that he was a wizard, Tom had a very low opinion of his mother and may have even despised her. Upon discovering his connection to the magical community, Riddle immediately concluded that she must have been muggle since she succumbed to death, the thing that Riddle feared above all other things and therefore, could not have been a witch.

It is not known if this opinion was altered once he learnt of his connection through her to Salazar Slytherin and the Gaunt family. In 1943, he went to Little Hangleton himself in order to find some answers. There, during an encounter with his maternal uncle Morfin, Voldemort was able to confirm that his mother was indeed a witch and that it was actually his father who was the muggle parent. Upon hearing that the older Riddle was both alive and present in the village, Voldemort concluded and would spend the rest of his life believing that Tom Riddle Sr. had married Merope willingly, only to abandon her after discovering that his wife was a witch. He never found out that this assumption was only half accurate and that Merope was in fact the guilty one.

Ultimately, on that same day, Voldemort would avenge Merope's abandonment by Tom Riddle Sr., as well as her previous mistreatment at the hands of Morfin. After stunning his uncle, the rising Dark Lord went to the Riddle House, where he murdered all of his paternal relatives in cold blood. He then used a false memory charm to frame Morfin for the crime, causing him to spend the rest of his life in Azkaban. These were the first of many murders that Voldemort would go on to commit throughout his, a fate that could have been avoided if Merope had been there for her son.

Trivia

  • Merope is the name of a daughter of Atlas in Greek Mythology. It is also the name of the mother of Oedipus in Oedipus Rex. Both Voldemort and Oedipus killed their fathers.
  • The flashback scene featuring Merope and her family was cut from the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince because of time and pacing concerns. In the finished film, Merope was indirectly mentioned by Dumbledore as the owner of Salazar Slytherin's ring. However, it was originally present in an early draft of the film's screenplay according to director David Yates. It's unknown if there were any considered actresses to play Merope by that point.

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