Chapter 10 – The House of Gaunt
It’s so funny to see Harry suddenly a star pupil in Potions class! It’s even funnier that Ron and Hermione are so frustrated with it. Ron just hates that he didn’t get the magic potions book (although he can’t read the messy handwriting as well). Hermione still thinks that Harry is basically cheating by using someone else’s work. Actually, her reaction surprises me a bit. She probably is a little jealous that Harry is out performing her in class (something that is NOT normal), but you would also expect her to appreciate having the notes from someone who has taken the time to really research this stuff and improve upon the recipes and instructions. That’s not cheating – that’s scholarship! In any case, they all can’t help but wonder who the “Half-Blood Prince” could be. Not only are there hints about potions but also instructions for what look like homemade spells? That could be dangerous.
Also Hermione thinks that it may have been a girl because the handwriting looks a bit feminine? Except that it does say “prince” and not “princess.”
But enough about all of this. It’s the night of Harry’s first private lesson with Dumbledore! On the way to Dumbledore’s office, he runs into Trelawney who is flipping through her Tarot cards and muttering to herself. As he enters, Dumbledore comments on the fact that Harry already has a detention, but he has rescheduled it with Snape to be done next week. With that out of the way, they get to the reason for these “lessons.”
“I have decided that it is time, now that you know what prompted Lord Voldemort to try and kill you fifteen years ago, for you to be given certain information.”
There was a pause.
“You said, at the end of last term, you were going to tell me everything,” said Harry. It was hard to keep a note of accusation from his voice. “Sir.” he added.
“And so I did,” said Dumbledore placidly. “I told you everything I know. From this point forth, we shall be leaving the firm foundation of fact and journeying together through the murky marshes of memory into thickets of wildest guesswork. From here on in, Harry, I may be as woefully wrong as Humphrey Belcher, who believed the time was ripe for a cheese cauldron.”
Hey, I wouldn’t say no to a good cheese cauldron. Also, I love that Harry is getting a bit sassy here, and also that Dumbledore just stays completely calm and unruffled. I love that about Dumbledore in general. Well, book-Dumbledore, at least. Let us not forget, “DIDYOUPUTYOURNAMEINTHEGOBLETOFFIRE!!!!!!!!”
So basically, what they will be doing is going through memories trying to learn a bit more about Voldemort himself. This is to help understand the prophesy better, but more importantly, to help Harry survive all of this. The first memory they will be viewing is from Bob Ogden, a wizard who died a while back, but who gave this memory to Dumbledore. He had been part of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and this memory is a “visit” he made during his line of work.
When Dumbledore has trouble unstoppering the vial, Harry offers to help and asks how he injured his hand. Once again, Dumbledore won’t answer.
They enter the memory and immediately see Ogden. They follow him down the path to the village of Little Hangleton. It’s a pretty place, in the valley of two hills with a large manor house overlooking it. Instead of heading into the village proper, Ogden turns down a dirt road hidden through a hedge. It’s a dark and creepy place but there is a sort of house there. Not a pleasant place at all. It’s filthy and looks abandoned.
Then there was a rustle and a crack, and a man in rags dropped from the nearest tree, landing on his feet right in front of Ogden, who leapt backward so fast he stood on the tails of his frock coat and stumbled.
“You’re not welcome.”
The man standing before them had thick hair so matted with dirt it could have been any color. Several of his teeth were missing. His eyes were small and dark and stared opposite directions. He might have looked comical, but he did not; the effect was frightening, and Harry could not blame Ogden for backing away several more paces before he spoke.
Here’s the thing. If some crazy guy dropped out of a tree and looked as menacing as this, I would get the heck out of there, especially since he has not just a wand, but a BLOODY KNIFE. Ogden is made of stronger stuff and tries to address the man, telling him he’s from the Ministry. The man repeats that Ogden is not welcome, but Ogden doesn’t seem to understand what he means. Dumbledore knows, and Harry soon realizes, that the man is speaking in Parseltongue and that’s why Ogden can’t understand him.
Also, these people have a dead snake nailed to their front door. Why would anyone want to visit?
The dirty man casts some sort of jinx on Ogden. A voice shouts from the house and an old man runs out. He calls the dirty man “Morfin” and Ogden identifies the old fellow as “Mr. Gaunt.” Gaunt is not a very pleasant person either, but at least he’s not immediately threatening. He identifies Ogden as a Ministry person and blames him for coming onto private property. That Morfin was only defending himself and the house from intruders. He also turns to Morfin and, in Parseltongue, tells him to get in the house and leave them alone.
Ogden tells him that he’s there to see Morfin and asks if they can speak about it in the house. At first Gaunt doesn’t want to comply. He asks if Ogden is pure-blood, complains that he doesn’t open letters from owls. Eventually he lets Ogden come in. Why he wants to go into that horrible place, I can’t imagine. It’s worse on the inside. What’s creepier is that Morfin is sitting in a chair with a little snake, singing to it in Parseltongue that he might nail it to the door too. There is also another person in the room: a girl.
She was standing beside a steaming pot on a grimy black stove, and was fiddling around with the shelf of squalid-looking pots and pans above it. Her hair was lank and dull and she had a plain, pale, rather heavy face. Her eyes, like her brother’s, stared in opposite directions. She looked a little cleaner than the two men, but Harry thought he had never seen a more defeated-looking person.
This is Gaunt’s daughter, Merope. Ogden wishes her a polite good morning, but she doesn’t answer. Ogden decides to get right to the point. He tells Gaunt that Morfin is accused of performing magic in front of a Muggle. This revelation causes Merope to drop one of the pots, making lots of noise. Her father yells at her, which causes her to accidentally shoot the pot across the floor, where it breaks. Gaunt continues to yell at her, calling her a useless Squib. Ogden is nice enough to mend the pot for her, and then continues with the reason for his visit: Morfin has broken the law.
Gaunt doesn’t want to hear it and doesn’t care. As far as he’s concerned, the Muggle had it coming. All Muggles have it coming. Ogden tells them that Morfin has been summoned to the Ministry for a hearing and that’s when Gaunt completely looses it. He starts yelling, calling Ogden scum and a Mudblood, accusing Ogden of thinking he’s above them. Which, truthfully, he is. Ogden is the Head of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad. It’s his job to, you know, enforce things. Like bringing Morfin in. Finally Gaunt can’t take it anymore. He pulls the “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM” card and shoves his filthy hand in Ogden’s face. On his middle finger is a ring.
“See this? See this? Know what it is? Know where it came from? Centuries it’s been in our family, that’s how far back we go, and pure-blood all the way! Know how much I’ve been offered for this, with the Peverell coat of arm engraved on the stone?”
And that’s not all.
With a howl of rage, Gaunt ran toward his daughter. For a split second, Harry thought he was going to throttle her as his hand flew to her throat; next moment, he was dragging her toward Ogden by a gold chain around her neck.
“See this?” he bellowed at Ogden, shaking a heavy gold locket at him, while Merope spluttered and gasped for breath.
“I see it, I see it!” said Ogden hastily.
“Slytherin’s!” yelled Gaunt. “Salazar Slytherin’s! We’re his last living descendants, what do you say to that, eh?”
This filthy, disgusting, violent little man has delusions of grandeur because he is the last living descendant of Slytherin. Blood-purity is the only thing that matters to him. The fact that his son attacked a Muggle is a point of pride, not to be punished or judged, certainly not by a man who is a Mudblood for sure. Ogden presses forward, saying that it is clear that Morfin has no remorse for his actions, and saying that he will have to attend the hearing to answer to the charges. They are interrupted by the sound of a carriage passing near the house’s hiding place. Two voices come from it, a young man and woman, who comment on the state of the Gaunt place.
This changes everything. Morfin starts taunting Merope in Parseltongue about the young man in the carriage, who had referred to the young woman as “darling.” Morfin goes on to say that Merope likes looking at the handsome Muggle, and was even watching for him to ride by. Gaunt gets extremely quiet. He is beyond words that his daughter would ever pine after a filthy Muggle. This is the Muggle that Morfin attacked. At this point, Gaunt yells at Merope, calling her not just a Squib, but a blood traitor, and tries to strangle her. Ogden, who has no idea what is going on since they are all speaking exclusively in Parseltongue, defends Merope and is chased out of the house by Morfin. Harry and Dumbledore follow to where Ogden almost runs into the carriage and then takes off up the hill.
Dumbledore tells Harry that it’s time to go. Back in the Headmaster’s office, Harry asks what happened to the poor girl. After all, she seemed to be the one in most danger in that scenario. Things didn’t look great for Ogden, but at least he could defend himself. Dumbledore assures Harry that Merope survived and that Ogden came back immediately with reinforcements.
“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. Hmmm, where have we heard that name before? Oh yeah, IT’S VOLDEMORT’S MIDDLE NAME! That man, Gaunt, just happens to be Voldemort’s grandfather, a bitter, angry old man who only had his family name and his pride left to him. You would expect the descendants of Slytherin to be rich, and that might have been true, but any money they had was squandered away before Marvolo, Morfin and Merope were born. All they had left were a few family heirlooms.
As you can probably guess now, Merope was Voldemort’s mother. His father? The handsome Muggle in the carriage. Tom Riddle. Harry can’t believe that those two would ever have gotten together, and you can’t blame him. Seems pretty incredible. Dumbledore believes that Merope’s magic had been stunted a bit while she was under the thumbs of her father and brother, but once they were in prison, she was able to flourish a bit better. She would have had resources at her disposal. Like maybe a love potion. It was apparently quite the scandal when the “squire’s son” ran off with the “tramp’s daughter.”
Marvolo was also shocked. He expected Merope to be there waiting for him when he got out of prison, but she wasn’t. He never spoke her name again and did not survive to see Morfin released. Harry knows that Merope must also have died because he knows that Voldemort was raised in an orphanage. It’s a very confusing story, one that takes a lot of guesswork. We know that Riddle returned home after being married for only a few months, claiming to be “hoodwinked.” Rumors abounded as to what he might mean by that, but it’s not like he could come out and say that his wife was a witch who kept him under the influence of a love potion, now could he! Dumbledore thinks that Merope stopped giving him the potion, hoping that he would love her without it, but was wrong. He left her while she was still pregnant with their child and never asked about his son, even after Baby Voldy was born.
So what does all of this have to do with current day Voldemort? Dumbledore thinks it’s very important to know about the Dark Lord’s past in order to try and understand more about what he might be trying to do. It also involves the prophesy and what it might mean. He also gives Harry permission to discuss all of this with Ron and Hermione, but no one else. Harry did notice something though: the ring that Gaunt had been wearing. Dumbledore had been wearing it the night they visited Slughorn. Dumbledore says that he has only recently gotten it, but Harry correctly guesses that Dumbledore got the ring around the same time that he injured his hand. Could those incidents be connected? I mean, of course they are. We’re not stupid, Dumbledore! In any case, Dumbledore dismisses Harry for now and bids him good night.
See you next time for Chapter 11!