Merope was so white Harry felt sure she was going to faint.
“What’s that?” said Gaunt sharply, also in Parseltongue, looking from his son to his daughter. “What did you say, Morfin?”
“She likes looking at that Muggle,” said Morfin, a vicious expression on his face as he stared at his sister, who now looked terrified. “Always in the garden when he passes, peering through the hedge at him, isn’t she? And last night—”
Merope shook her head jerkily, imploringly, but Morfin went on ruthlessly, “Hanging out of the window waiting for him to ride home, wasn’t she?”
“Hanging out of the window to look at a Muggle?” said Gaunt quietly.
All three of the Gaunts seemed to have forgotten Ogden, who was looking both bewildered and irritated at this renewed outbreak of incomprehensible hissing and rasping.
“Is it true?” said Gaunt in a deadly voice, advancing a step or two toward the terrified girl. “My daughter—pure-blooded descendant of Salazar Slytherin—hankering after a filthy, dirt-veined Muggle?”
Merope shook her head frantically, pressing herself into the wall, apparently unable to speak.
“But I got him, Father!” cackled Morfin. “I got him as he went by and he didn’t look so pretty with hives all over him, did he, Merope?”
“You disgusting little Squib, you filthy little blood traitor!” roared Gaunt, losing control, and his hands closed around his daughter’s throat.
Both Harry and Ogden yelled “No!” at the same time; Ogden raised his wand and cried, “Relashio!”
Gaunt was thrown backward, away from his daughter; he tripped over a chair and fell flat on his back. With a roar of rage, Morfin leapt out of his chair and ran at Ogden, brandishing his bloody knife and firing hexes indiscriminately from his wand.
Ogden ran for his life. Dumbledore indicated that they ought to follow and Harry obeyed, Merope’s screams echoing in his ears.
Ogden hurtled up the path and erupted onto the main lane, his arms over his head, where he collided with the glossy chestnut horse ridden by a very handsome, dark-haired young man. Both he and the pretty girl riding beside him on a gray horse roared with laughter at the sight of Ogden, who bounced off the horse’s flank and set off again, his frock coat flying, covered from head to foot in dust, running pell-mell up the lane.
“I think that will do, Harry,” said Dumbledore. He took Harry by the elbow and tugged. Next moment, they were both soaring weightlessly through darkness, until they landed squarely on their feet, back in Dumbledore’s now twilit office.
“What happened to the girl in the cottage?” said Harry at once, as Dumbledore lit extra lamps with a flick of his wand. “Merope, or whatever her name was?”
“Oh, she survived,” said Dumbledore, reseating himself behind his desk and indicating that Harry should sit down too. “Ogden Apparated back to the Ministry and returned with reinforcements within fifteen minutes. Morfin and his father attempted to fight, but both were overpowered, removed from the cottage, and subsequently convicted by the Wizengamot. Morfin, who already had a record of Muggle attacks, was sentenced to three years in Azkaban. Marvolo, who had injured several Ministry employees in addition to Ogden, received six months.”
“Marvolo?” Harry repeated wonderingly.
“That’s right,” said Dumbledore, smiling in approval. “I am glad to see you’re keeping up.”
“That old man was—?”
“Voldemort’s grandfather, yes,” said Dumbledore. “Marvolo, his son, Morfin, and his daughter, Merope, were the last of the Gaunts, a very ancient Wizarding family noted for a vein of instability and violence that flourished through the generations due to their habit of marrying their own cousins. Lack of sense coupled with a great liking for grandeur meant that the family gold was squandered several generations before Marvolo was born. He, as you saw, was left in squalor and poverty, with a very nasty temper, a fantastic amount of arrogance and pride, and a couple of family heirlooms that he treasured just as much as his son, and rather more than his daughter.”
“So Merope,” said Harry, leaning forward in his chair and staring at Dumbledore, “so Merope was… Sir, does that mean she was… Voldemort’s mother?”
“It does,” said Dumbledore. “And it so happens that we also had a glimpse of Voldemort’s father. I wonder whether you noticed?”
“The Muggle Morfin attacked? The man on the horse?”
“Very good indeed,” said Dumbledore, beaming. “Yes, that was Tom Riddle senior, the handsome Muggle who used to go riding past the Gaunt cottage and for whom Merope Gaunt cherished a secret, burning passion.”
“And they ended up married?” Harry said in disbelief, unable to imagine two people less likely to fall in love.
“I think you are forgetting,” said Dumbledore, “that Merope was a witch. I do not believe that her magical powers appeared to their best advantage when she was being terrorized by her father. 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.
“Can you not think of any measure Merope could have taken to make Tom Riddle forget his Muggle companion, and fall in love with her instead?”
“The Imperius Curse?” Harry suggested. “Or a love potion?”
“Very good. Personally, I am inclined to think that she used a love potion. I am sure it would have seemed more romantic to her, and I do not think it would have been very difficult, some hot day, when Riddle was riding alone, to persuade him to take a drink of water. In any case, within a few months of the scene we have just witnessed, 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.”
“But the villagers’ shock was nothing to Marvolo’s. He returned from Azkaban, expecting to find his daughter dutifully awaiting his return with a hot meal ready on his table. Instead, he found a clear inch of dust and her note of farewell, explaining what she had done.”
“From all that I have been able to discover, he never mentioned her name or existence from that time forth. The shock of her desertion may have contributed to his early death—or perhaps he had simply never learned to feed himself. Azkaban had greatly weakened Marvolo, and he did not live to see Morfin return to the cottage.”
“And Merope? She… she died, didn’t she? Wasn’t Voldemort brought up in an orphanage?”
“Yes, indeed,” said Dumbledore. “We must do a certain amount of guessing here, although I do not think it is difficult to deduce what happened. You see, within a few months of their runaway marriage, Tom Riddle reappeared at the manor house in Little Hangleton without his wife. The rumor flew around the neighborhood that he was talking of being ‘hoodwinked’ and ‘taken in.’ What he meant, I am sure, is that he had been under an enchantment that had now lifted, though I daresay he did not dare use those precise words for fear of being thought insane. When they heard what he was saying, however, the villagers guessed that Merope had lied to Tom Riddle, pretending that she was going to have his baby, and that he had married her for this reason.”
“But she did have his baby.”
“But not until a year after they were married. Tom Riddle left her while she was still pregnant.”
“What went wrong?” asked Harry. “Why did the love potion stop working?”
“Again, this is guesswork,” said Dumbledore, “but 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.”