The Gaunt Family
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An ancient, in-bred, pure-blood wizarding family living in slovenly conditions in a shack in Little Hangleton. Family members include the father Marvolo, and a son Morfin and a daughter named Merope. The Gaunts were the last remaining descendents of Hogwarts co-founder Salazar Slytherin. Once a wealthy family; by the 1940s, they were best known for their instability and violent behavior.
They lived in a dilapidated shack on a heavily wooded hillside above the town of Little Hangleton. When Harry saw Ogden's memory in the Pensieve, there was a snake nailed to the door. Inside there are three very small rooms. The main room is filthy and squalid.
Name meaning? To be gaunt is to be "very thin especially from disease or hunger or cold." (Wordnet)
Marvolo is shorter than his son Morfin, with odd proportions. He has "bright brown eyes, short scrubby hair, and wrinkled face." Harry think he looks like a powerful, aged monkey (Salazar Slytherin is also described as "monkey-like" in CS17). Marvolo wore a gold ring with the Peverell coat of arms carved into a black stone (HBP10).
Marvolo attacked Ministry personnel who had come to arrest his son, so he too was arrested. He was convicted by the Wizengamot and sentenced to Azkaban for 6 months (HBP10). He died before his son's sentence was complete.
Merope Gaunt was the daughter of Marvolo Gaunt and mother of Tom Riddle. Eighteen-year-old Merope's hair is lank and dull and she has a "plain, pale, rather heavy face." Her eyes also gaze in opposite directions. Merope's father is extremely abusive to her and derisively calls her a "Squib" (and other dreadful things). It is no wonder that Harry observes that she looks "defeated." In addition to ragged clothing, Merope wears a heavy gold locket that her father claims belonged to Salazar Slytherin (HBP10).
Merope was intensely attracted to the wealthy Muggle Tom Riddle, but there were a couple problems. She knew her father would be violently opposed, and Tom saw her as an object of derision and disgust. However, after her brother and father were sent to Azkaban, Merope tricked Riddle into marrying her with a love potion. It is unknown why, but after she became pregnant she allowed the potion to wear off and Riddle abandoned her. Merope went to London, but was so destitute she sold her priceless gold locket to Caractacus Burke of Borgin & Burke's for a meager 10 galleons. Later she gave birth at a Muggle orphanage and died after naming her child Tom Marvolo Riddle.
Merope=Eyes or face turned (Greek). "The Pleiades are called seven in number, but only six can be seen. This reason has been advanced, that of the seven, six mated with immortals; the seventh was said to have been the wife of [mortal] Sisyphus ... On account of her other sisters she was placed among the constellations, but because she married a mortal, her star is dim." - Hyginus, Astronomica. An unrelated Merope was a Queen of Corinth and Oedipus' foster mother.
Morfin Gaunt was the son of Marvolo Gaunt. He is first seen dressed in rags, his thick hair so matted with dirt the color was indistinguishable. He was missing several teeth, and his eyes, like those of his father and sister, looked in opposite directions. Morfin is a Parselmouth and a sociopath.
Morfin is summoned to a hearing by the Ministry for hexing a Muggle (Tom Riddle). When he resists he is arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 3 years at Azkaban (HBP10).
Years later, his nephew Tom Riddle paid him a visit. It was then that Tom learned that his father was a Muggle. Tom Stupefied Morfin, then went to the Riddle house and murdered his father and grandparents. Before leaving Little Hangleton, Tom stole the gold ring that was a Gaunt family heirloom. When questioned by the Ministry, Morfin confessed to the murders, so Tom must have also implanted false memories. Morfin died at Azkaban during his second incarceration (HBP17).
'Morfin' is probably a homonym for the powerful drug Morphine, a highly addictive pain reliever. The word morphine, in turn, is rooted in the name 'Morpheus,' the Greek god of sleep and dreams.