Morfin Gaunt was an influential antagonist from the Harry Potter franchise. He made his only appearance in the sixth novel: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Confirmed to have died before the start of the series, key moments of his life were posthumously examined by Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore through Dumbledore's pensieve. This included one of Morfin's own memories.
Morfin was a direct descendant of Salazar Slytherin and the last surviving member of the Anicent House of Gaunt. A Pure-Blood supremacist like his father Marvolo, Morfin was the older brother of Merope Gaunt (later Merope Riddle), the maternal uncle of Lord Voldemort, whose birth and creation he is indirectly responsible for, and Delphini's great uncle.
Morfin was of average height, with dark hair unkempt hair. His eyes were noted to stare in opposite directions. Morfin apparently had little to no concern for personal hygiene or appearances. Harry noted that as a youngster Morfin was missing several teeth and that his hair was not only unkempt, but and covered in dirt. By 1943, Morfin's hair and beard were so long that he had trouble seeing
Morfin Gaunt was a highly unpleasant individual, due being a product of incest and the anti-muggle environment he grew up in. Marvolo Gaunt instilled a deep hatred for Muggles into his son and even encouraged the latter's unlawful behavior against them. As such Marvolo was the only person that Morfin ever looked up to and respected.
Greatly feared and shunned by the local community, Morfin had a cruel, borderline sadistic streak about him. Apart from torturing and killing snakes (which is one of the signs of a psychopath), Morfin was also cruel to his younger sister Merope. He treated her with indifference at best and outright bullied her at worst. Although capable of taking care of himself somewhat, Morfin still depended upon Merope to help take care of things at home. This was demonstrated by the fact that the Gaunt house fell into disrepair and squalor under his sole supervision.
The only things that Morfin Gaunt truly valued were the Gaunt family heirlooms, namely Salazar Slytherin's personal locket and the Gaunt family ring. When Merope abandoned the family, she took the former item with her, an act that Morfin considered nothing short of theft. This made him treasure the Gaunt's ring even more. Following the rings "disappearance" in 1943, all Morfin Gaunt said afterwards, was that his father would kill him for losing it.
Morfin was born to Marvolo Gaunt and his wife around 1900, in or near the village of Little Hangleton. The Gaunt family (namely Marvolo, Morfin and Merope) were the direct descendants of Hogwarts founder Salazar Slytherin. They lived in squalor in a small shack on the outskirts of the otherwise muggle community. Morfin and his younger sister Merope, were the latest generation to be born of incest, a tradition that had been practiced by the Gaunt family for centuries in order to preserve their Pure-Blood status. The possessed very few luxuries and had little to no money.
Like his father and distant ancestor, Morfin was a Pure-Blood supremacist who possessed a strong dislike for muggles. As he matured, Morfin grew into a violent man, who spent most of his free time attacking muggles, usually by jinxing them. Like the rest of his kin, Morfin was a parselmouth, which meant he could to talk to snakes. Unfortunately, he treated them no better than he did his sister, who was often a victim of Morfin's cruelty and bullying.
Bob Ogden's Memory, 1925
Harry Potter first met Morfin, when he and Dumbledore entered the memory of former Ministry of Magic employee Bob Ogden. In autumn 1925, Ogden was sent by the Ministry to charge Morfin with attacking a local muggle, Tom Riddle, causing him to develop painful hives. Since this was a serious breach of international wizarding law, Morfin would need to attend an official hearing.
Morfin met Odgen at the door and told him to leave. Since Ogden could not understand Morfin (who was speaking in Parseltongue), Gaunt hexed him. Before things could escalate any further, Marvolo intervened allowing Odgen inside, where the latter tried to explain the seriousness of the situation as well as Morfin's offences. Morfin watched on gleefully from an armchair, as his father made it perfectly clear that as far as he was concerned his son had done nothing wrong.
As Ogden prepared to leave, he and the Gaunts heard two people passing by. It was Riddle and his girlfriend Cecilia. Hearing Tom refer to Cecilia affectionately, Morfin made a decision which would unintentionally bring about the end of the Gaunt lineage and lead to the creation of the most evil wizard that has ever existed. Gaunt spitefully informed his father that his sister, Merope, liked watching Tom Riddle and that this was the reason that he had attacked Riddle.
Upon hearing this, Marvolo flew into a rage and attacked Merope, only for Bob Odgen to immediately intervene. This saved Merope's life, but caused Morfin to attack Ogden in a rage. With hexes flying after him, Bob Ogden managed to flee to safety before apparating back to the Ministry. Ogden returned a short time afterwards with reinforcements, where they confronted both Marvolo and Morfin for their offences. The father and son duo put a fight, but were eventually defeated and detained. This stint, earnt the two men an additional charge for attacking Ministry of Magic officials. For his offences against Tom Riddle, the Ministry wizards and his previous attack on muggles, Morfin received a three-year sentence in Azkaban.
By the time Morfin got out of prison and returned to the Gaunt shack, several key things had happened.
- Firstly, his father, Marvolo, who had been released before Morfin, had died. This left Morfin as the new patriarch of the Gaunt family. He also inherited and started wearing the Gaunt families ring.
- Secondly, his sister Merope had disappeared. She had eloped with Tom Riddle whom she had enchanted with a love potion, taking Salazar Slytherin's locket with her. Morfin was outraged at both the loss of this priceless family heirloom and his sisters "betrayal".
- By the time of Morfin's release, however, Riddle had also returned to Little Hangleton having abandoned Merope to her fate in London, once she'd lifted the enchantment. Morfin ultimately considered this to be an act of justice after what Merope had done.
These changes and developments did nothing to improve Morfin's life however. Over the next few decades, he sank further into debauchery and squalor. Both Morfin and the house became dirtier than ever, so that by the time Harry and Dumbledore next saw him, (in a memory that later turned out to be Morfin's own) Gaunt and his residence were barely recognizable. Disheveled and unkempt, Morfin lived a life of self-isolation. His life might have continued in that way, were it not for a fateful encounter in 1943, which would change his fate forever.
Meeting Tom Marvolo Riddle
In 1943, Morfin was resting in his armchair, when a knock on the door roused him from his sleep. Moments later, the door opened to reveal a tall, pale-faced teenager who had turned up at the Gaunt shack unannounced. Morfin took one look at the man and assumed it to be Tom Riddle Sr. Outraged, Gaunt leapt to his feet and lunged at the intruder, knife in hand, only for the trespasser to order him to stop in parseltongue. Morfin stopped dead in his tracks at the revelation that he was talking to both a fellow wizard and parselmouth.
What Morfin did not know was that the person standing in front of him was his own nephew Tom Marvolo Riddle (aka Lord Voldemort). Conceived by Merope before his father's abandonment, Voldemort had grown up in a muggle orphanage, before attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Obsessed with his ancestry, Riddle, who had recently learned of his connection to the Slytherin line had tracked down the Gaunts in order to learn about his relatives.
In the brief conversation that followed, Voldemort asked about the rest of the family. Morfin revealed that Marvolo was long dead, before going into a rant about Merope. He told the youth about how she had run away with Tom Riddle Sr., noting the strangers uncanny resemblance to the local muggle. Failing to notice the connection, Morfin also revealed that revealed that the older Riddle had not only returned to the village but lived in the great manor house nearby. Angered by this discussion, Morfin turned his back on Voldemort ... and could not remember anything afterwards.
Confession and Imprisonment
|“||He'll kill me for losing it, ... He'll kill me for losing his ring.||„|
|~ Morfin Gaunt's last words according to Albus Dumbledore|
The next thing Morfin knew, it was the following morning. He was lying on the floor of the Gaunt shack, Marvolo Gaunts ring was missing and there was no sign of the stranger. At the same time, the Riddle family's maid ran screaming into the village, informing the stunned residents as to the fate of her employers. Tom Riddle Sr. and his parents had been murdered at some point during the night. The authorities, both magical and muggle were notified about the incident. However the polices investigation ultimately drew a blank. Their prime suspect was the Riddles gardener, Frank Bryce who was briefly arrested, but ultimately released due to a lack of evidence. Tragically, the completely innocent Frank would spend the rest of his life vilified for a crime he did not commit. In the muggle world, the Riddle's murder remains an officially unsolved case to this day.
Whilst it is not known exactly how the Ministry of Magic was notified about Riddle's murder, they, unlike their muggle counterparts, had a much clearer view on what had happened. The Riddles had murdered by a witch or wizard using the Avada Kedavra curse. Just like the police with Bryce, the Ministry's investigation soon produced a prime suspect: Morfin Gaunt. Not only was he the only wizard living in close proximity to the crime scene, Morfin was a well known and convicted muggle hater. Most importantly of all, Gaunt's previous conviction had been for attacking one of the victims in this particualr incident.
With their suspicions raised, Ministry representatives visited Morfin in order to question him. If they expected the matter to be long and arduous, they were in for a shock. To everyone's surprise, Morfin freely admitted his guilt. He then gave the investigators a full, boastful confession about what had happened, his detailed description evidently matching against whatever details the Ministry officials had about the murder. Over the course of the interview, Morfin never expressed any remorse for what had happened. On the contrary, he told the authorities quite calmly that he was proud of what he had done. The final nail in Morfin's coffin came when his wand was examined. A quick analysis, (presumably with the Prior Incantato charm), revealed it to be the murder weapon.
With all the evidence they needed, the investigators charged Morfin Gaunt with murder and he arrested on the spot. In contrast to his previous encounter with the authorities, seventeen years ago, Morfin chose to surrender without a fight. As he left the Gaunt shack for the last time, Morfin told the officials that the only thing he could not understand was what had happened to his father's ring. According to several witnesses, all Morfin ever said after this was that his father would kill him for losing the ring.
It is not known whether Morfin ever stood trial for the murder of the Riddle family, especially since he had provided the authorities with a personal confession. In either event, the case was now closed and Morfin was officially convicted of murdering the three innocent muggles. Since the use of the Avada Kedavra curse carried a mandatory life sentence, Morfin was returned to Azkaban. Morfin Gaunt would spend the rest of his life languishing within a tiny cell inside the wizard's prison. Whilst the rest of the world forgot about him, Morfin silently lamented the loss of Marvolo's last heirloom.
Miscarriage of Justice and Death
For many years afterwards, nobody concerned themselves with the fate of Morfin Gaunt, which was very unfortunate. Unbeknownst to anybody, a gross miscarriage of justice had just been carried out, one that not even the accused was aware of. This act, would see an innocent (albeit highly unpleasant) individual spend the rest of his life serving time for a crime he did not commit. That all changed when, on an unspecified date prior to 1996, Morfin received an unexpected visit from Hogwart's headmaster, Order of the Phoenix founder/leader and member of the Wizengamot, Albus Dumbledore.
Having discovered Morfin's familial connection to his Voldemort, Dumbledore visited Morfin to see if the latter could offer any information that could be vital in leading to Voldemort's downfall. It is not known what words were exchanged between the two men, but at some point Dumbledore, who was very proficient in both occlumency and legilimency, realized that something was not right about Morfin's recollections, specifically on the day that his supposed crime was carried out. Examining Morfin's memories more closely, Dumbledore discovered that Gaunts memory had been tampered with, via a False Memory Charm.
Drawing upon his own stupendous talents, Dumbledore eventually managed to break through the enchantment and uncover the true memory of the event in question. (Note: He saw everything described in the previous section, right up until Morfin turned his back on Voldemort). After seeing what it contained, the horrified Dumbledore realized what had really happened all those years ago.
After learning that his father was not only still alive, but a muggle as he had been loath to believe, Riddle decided to confront him. To cover his tracks, he stunned his maternal uncle and took his wand, before marching up the valley to the large house that Morfin had previously indicated. Whilst Gaunt lay unconscious upon the floor, Riddle confronted the members of his paternal family, ultimately turning Morfin's wand upon the trio and killing them in cold blood. Job done, Voldemort had returned to the Gaunt's shack. Feeling no familial attachment to Morfin, he then used a False Memory Charm to modify his uncles recollection of the events in question, so that Morfin would believe himself to be the killer. Before abandoning his last remaining kinsman to his fate, Voldemort returned Morfin's wand and stole the Gaunt family ring, which he would wear as a trophy for some time afterwards. Riddle's plan worked completely, allowing him to get away with murder.
Recognizing the significance of his discovery, Dumbledore took this new evidence straight to the Ministry. After presenting his findings to his associates, the Hogwarts Headmaster immediately petitioned the court for Morfin's exoneration and release. The Wizengamot and Law Enforcement offices were caught off guard and completely taken aback by this development. Not only did this add another set of murders to Voldemort's already extensive tally, it also turned what had been up until then a completely resolved case, on its head. Despite this development, some officials argued as to whether or not Morfin should be released given his history. Whilst the Ministry officials dithered on what to do, fate intervened, ultimately ensuring that their decision would not matter.
By this point, Morfin had already spent an extensive amount of time in Azkaban. Weakened by his long tenure as well as the influence of the evil, life sapping Dementors, Gaunt's already declining health deteriorated rapidly in the weeks following Albus Dumbledore's visit. Tragically, before the Ministry could officially clear or exonerate him, Morfin Gaunt passed away whilst still in prison. His death brought about the official extinction of the House of Gaunt and made Voldemort the sole surviving descendant of Salazar Slytherin, until the birth of his own daughter, Delphini. Since Morfin had no family, his body was laid to rest on the prison grounds.
Although Morfin died before the series started, he still played a major role in Harry Potter's life, as well as the history of Great Britain's wizarding community.
- By abusing his sister, Morfin inspired her to use a love potion on Riddle Sr in order to escape from her cruel life. When Tom left her, all of Merope's past trauma, including those inflicted by her brother, took its toll upon her. She ultimately decided not to save her own life, which played a major role in shaping Voldemorts character, leading him to become who he was.
- Morfin himself told Voldemort a little about his family history, which contributed to Voldemort's hatred of Muggles and the murder of his father. This proved beneficial to Voldemort, as he was later able to use his father's bones to resurrect himself. Riddle also inadvertently avenged his mother's mistreatment, by sending her chief tormentor, his own uncle to Azkaban.
- Gaunt also unwittingly played a role in the demise of Albus Dumbledore. Voldemort with the Peverell/Gaunt Ring, into one of his horcruxes, not knowing it contained the Resurrection Stone. Upon discovering the horcrux, Dumbledore immediately recognized the gem for what it was and overcome by a desire to see his family, put the ring on. Although Dumbledore was able to prevent himself from being killed instantly, the curse Voldemort had placed on the ring, hugely contributed to his death a year later. Before Dumbledore died though, he sent the ring to Harry, who used it to talk to his family and get the encouragement he needed to face Voldemort.
Despite Morfin Gaunt not being a nice or friendly person, Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore still pitied him. They both agreed that whatever his faults, Morfin did not deserve to spend the majority of his life locked away for a crime that he did not commit. Whilst the Ministry never knowingly acknowledged its own failing, this miscarriage of justice would ultimately be avenged when Harry defeated Voldemort in May 1998, thus bringing an end to the age of darkness.
- In some ways, Morfin Gaunt can be easily considered to be the Greater-Scope Villain of the Harry Potter series: if he hadn't attacked Tom Riddle Sr., then Bob Ogden would have never been send to the Gaunt residence and Merope would have remained living with Morfin and Marvolo, precluding her from seducing Riddle and conceiving Lord Voldemort with him.
- However, Morfin wasn't solely responsible for Voldemort's existence: had Bob Ogden decided not to return with reinforcements, then Merope would have possibly never left her family nor had the opportunity to seduce Tom Riddle Sr. Likewise, according to J.K. Rowling, if Merope hadn't lost her will to live and raised Voldemort on her own, then Tom Riddle Jr. would have turned out to be a better person.
- The flashback scene featuring Morfin and his family was cut from the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince because of time and pacing concerns. 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 actors to play Morfin by that point.
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