Morfin Gaunt is an influential antagonist from the Harry Potter franchise, who 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 viewed through memories in Albus Dumbledore's Pensieve.
Morfin is a direct descendant of Salazar Slytherin, and would ultimately become the last surviving member of the House of Gaunt. A Pure-Blood supremacist, like his father, Morfin is the maternal uncle of Lord Voldemort, whose birth and creation he is indirectly responsible for.
Morfin was born to Marvolo Gaunt around 1900, in or near the village of Little Hangleton. Morfin and his younger sister Merope were the latest out of many generations born of incest, a tradition practiced by the Gaunts, in order to preserve their Pure-Blood line. As a result of this inbreeding, Morfin was mentally deranged. He spent most of his life living with his father and sister. The fate of his mother is unknown.
The Gaunt family lived in squalor within a small shack on the outskirts of the village. They possessed very few luxuries and had little money. Two things that the Gaunts did have however, which both Marvolo and Morfin treasured, were Salazar Slytherin's personal locket and the Gaunt Family Ring. Like his father and distant ancestor, Morfin was a parselmouth who enjoyed talking to and killing snakes. Raised to have Pure-Blood supremacist values, Morfin grew into a violent man, with a history of attacking muggles. He also enjoyed bullying and deliberately tormenting his sister Merope.
Bob Ogden's Memory
Harry Potter first met Morfin, when he and Dumbledore entered the memory of former Ministry of Magic employee Bob Ogden from 1925. Ogden had been sent by the Ministry to charge Morfin with attacking a local muggle, Tom Riddle Sr. Morfin met Odgen at the door and warned him to leave. Since Bob Ogden could not understand as Morfin (who was speaking in Parseltongue), Morfin hexed him.
Marvolo intervened and Odgen tried his best to explain Morfin's offences. Morfin watched gleefully from a chair, as his father made it perfectly clear that from his perspective, his son had done nothing wrong. When the Gaunts and Ogden heard Riddle and his girlfriend Cecilia passing by, Morfin spitefully informed his father that his sister, Merope, liked watching Tom Riddle and so he attacked him, causing Riddle to erupt in highly painful hives.
Hearing this Marvolo flew into a rage and began to attack Merope. Odgen intervened, saving Merope's life, causing Marvolo and Morfin to attack him in turn. Bob Ogden fleed back to the Ministry of Magic, returning a short time afterwards with reinforcements. Father and son put a fight but the Ministry wizards eventually managed to detain Marvolo and Morfin, who were both subsequently arrested for attacking Ministry officials. For his offences against Tom Riddle and the Ministry wizards, Morfin was given a three-year stint in Azkaban.
By the time Morfin got out of prison, several key things had happened. His father, Marvolo had died leaving him as the new patriarch of the Gaunt family. His sister Merope had also disappeared, eloping with Tom Riddle whom she had enchanted with a love potion, taking Salazar Slytherin's locket with her. By the time of Morfin's release, however, Riddle had likewise returned to Little Hangleton abandoning Merope to her fate in London, which Morfin considered a small justice.
These changes and developments did not improve Morfin's life in any way, however. Over the next few decades, he sank further into debauchery and squalor. Under his care, the house became dirtier than ever and Morfin held no regard for his personal appearance. By the time Harry and Dumbledore next saw him in another memory (which later turned out to be Morfin's own), Gaunt himself was barely recognisable. Morfin's life may have continued as such, were it not for a fateful encounter in 1943, which would ultimately seal his fate forever.
In 1943, Morfin received an unexpected visit from a tall, pale-faced teenager who turned up at the Gaunt shack unannounced. Morfin took one look at the man and believed him to be Tom Riddle Sr. He lunged forwards intending to attack the perceived muggle, only for the trespasser to order him to stop, speaking Parseltongue.
Morfin stopped dead in his tracks, at the revelation that the person in front of him was a wizard and a fellow Parselmouth. What Morfin did not know was the identity of this person. Standing in front of him, was his nephew Tom Marvolo Riddle (aka Lord Voldemort). Conceived by Merope before his father's abandonment, Voldemort had grown up a muggle orphanage. Obsessed with his ancestry, Riddle, who had learned of his connection to the Slytherin line had tracked down the Gaunts in order to learn about his family.
In the brief conversation that followed, Voldemort asked about the family. Morfin revealed that Marvolo was dead, before going into a rant about Merope, explaining how she ran away with Tom Riddle Sr. only for her husband to leave her. He also revealed that the older Riddle had returned to the village, and lived very nearby. Angered by this discussion, Morfin turned away from Voldemort only to lose consciousness seconds later.
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|
Morfin did not regain consciousness until the following morning. When Gaunt woke up, he once again found himself alone in the shack, with no sign of the stranger. At around the same time, the Riddle families maid ran screaming down into the village, having just discovered the bodies of her three employers. Tom Riddle Sr. and his parents had been murdered at some point during the night.
The authorities were contacted about the incident, but the polices investigation would ultimately draw a blank. The Riddles gardener Frank Bryce was briefly arrested but released due to lack of evidence. Although the innocent Bryce remained the prime suspect, the case officially remaining unsolved to this day.
Through means unspecified, the Ministry of Magic was also informed about the incident in Little Hangleton. Unlike their muggle counterparts, the Ministry investigators had a much clearer view on what had happened. From the descriptions provided, they quickly realised that a witch or wizard had killed the Riddles through use of the Avada Kedavra curse. Just as the police had done with Bryce, the Ministry's investigation soon produced a prime suspect: Morfin Gaunt. A convicted muggle hater, Morfin lived locally to the scene of crime and more importantly, he already had a prior record for attacking one of the victims.
With this evidence in hand, representatives from the Ministry visited Morfin in order to question him. Ultimately however, they would not need to. When asked about the incident, Gaunt (much to everybody astonishment) freely admitted his guilt. He gave the investigators a full, boastful confession, explaining exactly how the murder was carried out, which presumably matched the evidence the Ministry had about the incident. Morfin expressed no remorse for what he had allegedly done, telling the authorities quite calmly that he was proud of it. As the final nail in his coffin, Morfin's wand was examined, (presumably with the Prior Incantato charm), which revealed it to be the murder weapon.
What the Ministry and Morfin did not realise was that the latter was completely innocent. Unknown to anybody, including himself, Morfin was, in fact, acting under the influence of a False Memory Charm. The real perpetrator of this entire incident was Lord Voldemort. Furious at the revelation that his father was not only still alive but a muggle as he had been loath to believe, the younger Riddle stunned his maternal uncle. Taking Morfin's wand, Voldemort marched up the valley to the house that Gaunt had previously indicated. There the rising Dark Lord subsequently gained entrance to the Riddle's residence, where he murdered Tom Riddle Sr. and his parents in cold blood. To cover his tracks and conceal his involvement, Voldemort then returned to the Gaunt shack. Feeling no familial attachment to Morfin whatsoever, Riddle gave the unconscious Morfin back his wand. He then used the False Memory Charm to modify his uncles recollection of the events so that Morfin would believe that he was the one that had committed the murders.
Voldemorts plan worked completely, as nobody bothered to investigate Morfin's memory or consider the likelihood that he was bewitched. With all the evidence they needed, the Ministry officially charged Morfin Gaunt with murder and he arrested on the spot. In contrast to his previous encounter with the authorities, Morfin chose to surrender without incident. As he was being taken into custody, Gaunt told the officials that the only thing he could not understand was what had happened to his father's ring. Unbeknownst to Morfin, Riddle had stolen the Gaunt family memento as a trophy, which he would later turn into one of his Horcruxes. Unaware of this, all Morfin ever said again after this, according to witnesses was that his deceased father would kill him for losing the ring.
Later life and Death
What happened to Morfin after his arrest is not known. He was presumably tried by the Wizengamot for murdering the Riddles, where given all of the evidence against him, including a personal confession, it did not take long for the court to convict him. The accused was subsequently returned to Azkaban, this time indefinitely.
Morfin would spend the rest of his life in a tiny cell within the wizard's prison. The Memory Charm remained in full effect throughout his sentence, thus the alleged murderer never realised that he had been convicted for a crime he did not commit. The Ministry closed the case on the Riddle's and for many years after that, nobody concerned themselves with the fate of Morfin Gaunt.
Then, at an unspecified date, prior to 1996, Morfin received an unexpected visit from Albus Dumbledore. As he would later tell Harry Potter, the Hogwarts headmaster was trying to learn as much as he could about Voldemort's past. Having apparently discovered Morfin's familial connection to his former pupil, Dumbledore presumably visited Morfin in order to learn about any interactions he may have had with his nephew.
What exactly transpired between them during this meeting is not certain. At some point however, Dumbledore, who was very proficient in both occlumency and legilimency, realised that something was not right about Morfin's recollection of the alleged incident. Drawing upon his stupendous skills Dumbledore, eventually managed to break through the False Memory Charm and recovered Morfin's true memory.
Recognising the immediate significance of what he had just discovered, as well as its implications, Dumbledore took this new evidence straight to the Ministry. With proof of Morfin's innocence literally in hand, he petitioned for Gaunt's immediate release and exoneration. Taken aback by this development on what until then had been a previously resolved case, the Ministry authorities dithered. Ultimately, however, their decision would not matter.
Already weakened by his extensive tenure within Azkaban, Morfin Gaunt's condition deteriorated rapidly in the weeks following Albus Dumbledore's visit. Tragically before the Ministry could officially exonerate him, Morfin died. With no family to claim his body, his body was laid to rest alongside the prison. Morfin's death brought about the official extinction of the House of Gaunt, and left Voldemort as the sole surviving member of the Salazar Slytherin line.
Even though Morfin died before the series started, he still played a major role. By abusing his sister, Morfin inspired her to use a love potion on Riddle Sr. When he 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, by providing Voldemort with the Peverell Ring. Voldemort turned it into a horcrux, which unknown to himself or Morfin, happened to contain the Resurrection Stone. He placed a powerful curse upon it, which would kill anybody that foolishly dared to try and put on the ring. Upon discovering the horcrux, Dumbledore immediately recognised the gem for what it was, and was overcome by a desire to see his family, so he put the ring on. Although Dumbledore was able to prevent himself from being killed instantly, the curse 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 clearly not being a nice person, Harry and Dumbledore still felt sorry for him. They both agreed that whatever Morfin's faults, he did not deserve to spend the majority of his life locked away for a crime that he did not commit. This miscarriage of justice would ultimately be avenged by Harry Potter in 1998, when he defeated Voldemort, 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 the sole 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 lose 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.
Other Dark Wizards & Witches