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The House of Gaunt

- Chapter 10

"This time, you enter the Pensieve with me ... and, even more unusually, with permission."
-- Albus Dumbledore

HBP10: The House of Gaunt

Harry attends his first lesson with Albus Dumbledore, who explains that they will be delving into Lord Voldemort’s past via the Pensieve. In Bob Ogden’s memory, they go to Marvolo Gaunt’s house to see about his son, Morfin, who has broken wizarding law by attacking a muggle; there they see a mean, impoverished, racist Marvolo abusing his daughter Merope, who is watching muggle Tom Riddle. Dumbledore explains that Merope later used a love potion on Tom; Merope and Tom married, but when Merope stopped giving him the love potion, he left her – despite the fact that she was pregnant.

Calendar and Dates

The entire chapter takes place on Saturday of the first week of classes, which for reasons described in HBP8 we know began on Sunday, 1 September. Therefore, it must be 7 September, though of course the memory Harry and Dumbledore visit in the Pensieve takes place many decades earlier.

Interesting facts and notes

The chapter covers Harry's first private lesson with Albus Dumbledore, involving a visit into the past via a Pensieve memory.

Although the amount of homework they had been given prevented him from reading the whole of his copy of Advanced Potion-Making, he had skimmed through it sufficiently to see that there was barely a page on which the Prince had not made additional notes, not all of them concerned with potion-making. Here and there were directions for what looked like spells that the Prince had made up himself.

Hermione points out that "the handwriting looks more like a girl's than a boy's". In spite of it being unusual that a girl would have been referred to as being a "Prince", it does turn out that Hermione is right, of course (HBP30).

she shuffled a pack of dirty-looking playing cards, reading them as she walked

From Professor Trelawney's comments, at first these appear to be ordinary playing cards rather than Tarot cards. Yes, people do sometimes use ordinary playing cards for that sort of thing, but Trelawney's later references to "The Lightning-Struck Tower" indicate that sometimes, at least, she uses a Tarot deck instead.

Professor Trelawney with crystal ball.

A Tarot deck is somewhat similar to a deck of ordinary playing cards, but divides into two groups of cards:

  • the Minor Arcana
    Correspond to the four suits of an ordinary deck but with different names for the suits (e.g. pentacles instead of diamonds) and different images on them (what, exactly, depends on which variety of Tarot deck you're using; Waite-Ryder is the most common but by no means the only one).
  • the Major Arcana
    These are 22 special cards with extra significance, such as the Tower, Death, the Hanged Man (yes, I know about the pub in GF1), and so on.

From the names of the cards used here (those of an ordinary deck of playing cards, without the Major Arcana of the Tarot), Trelawney is not playing with a full deck.

"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 hereon in, Harry, I may be as woefully wrong as Humphrey Belcher, who believed the time was ripe for a cheese cauldron."

A cheese cauldron? Well, perhaps Humphrey Belcher was a fan of Muggle-style cheese fondue and wanted to provide a proper wizarding version....

Dumbledore's comments about memories being "guesswork" is easy to read past without thinking through what he is really saying. People's (and wizard's) memories are only as good as their own personal perception of the world around them. If they are mistaken, what they see and what Dumbledore and Harry may conclude from these Pensieve memories may also be wrong. There is a warning there.

It seemed to him a very strange location to choose for a house, or else an odd decision to leave the trees growing nearby, blocking all light and the view of the valley below. He wondered whether it was inhabited; its walls were mossy and so many tiles had fallen off the roof that the rafters were visible in places. Nettles grew all around it, their tips reaching the windows, which were tiny and thick with grime.

It's like the start of a horror tale - the spooky house in a dark forest with a snake nailed to the door. Bob Ogden is the head of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad and a brave man to approach the Gaunt family home without backup.

"Er – good morning. I'm from the Ministry of Magic –"
"You’re not welcome."
"Er – I'm sorry – I don't understand you," said Ogden nervously.

Ogden does not realise that Morfin Gaunt is speaking Parseltongue. The Gaunts and the Potters are both descended from the Peverell family. Although Dumbledore thought that Harry had gained his ability to speak Parseltongue from the back-firing Killing Curse as a baby, it may be that what the curse did was bring out a latent inherited ability.

The house seemed to contain three tiny rooms. Two doors led off the main room, which served as kitchen and living room combined. Morfin was sitting in a filthy armchair beside the smoking fire, twisting a live adder between his thick fingers and crooning softly at it in Parseltongue.... 
There was a scuffling noise in the corner beside the open window and Harry realised that there was somebody else in the room, a girl whose ragged grey dress was the exact colour of the dirty stone wall behind her.

You wouldn't know that the Gaunt family had once been rich and powerful by the looks of the three of them - Marvolo, Morfin and Merope, the last descendants of Salazar Slytherin.

"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...."

The mother of Tom Marvolo Riddle, the future Lord Voldemort, was an abused and unloved daughter from a dysfunctional family. Although she was obviously devastated to lose the husband she had gained, you do wonder what Voldemort's life would have been like with his mother alive, always supposing that she could have learned to love and care for her baby.

Exceptional character moments

Hermione's frustration that the "official instructions" found in Advanced Potion Making are not yielding the results in Potions class as good as those in the Half-Blood Prince's amended copy of the book.

Bob Ogden standing up to Marvolo Gaunt: disregarding digs about pure-bloods, ignoring slurs about Muggles, persisting with his task of delivering a Ministry summons to Morfin, and trying to help the hapless Merope.

Albus Dumbledore's teaching style, as revealed in his and Harry's conversation about what happened to Merope after the time of the Pensieve memory.

Memorable lines

"From here on in, Harry, I may be as woefully wrong as Humphrey Belcher, who believed the time was ripe for a cheese cauldron."

"Are you pure-blood?" he asked, suddenly aggressive.
"That's neither here nor there," said Ogden coldly, and Harry felt his respect for Ogden rise.

"Hissy hissy, little snakey,
Slither on the floor
You be good to Morfin
Or he'll nail you to the door."

Words and phrases

Characters Introduced

HBP 10 — The House of Gaunt
Abbreviation HBP10: The House of Gaunt
Canonicity Primary Canon


Could the chapter's title "The House of Gaunt" be a possible reference to John of Gaunt, Henry IV's father? The title itself has at least two meanings - it introduces us to the house where the Gaunt family live, and also to the members of that family. The word "gaunt" means emaciated or haggard looking, which describes the appearance of each of the family members. -- ed

This is the first opportunity for readers to get a glimpse into Tom Riddle's childhood. We, and Harry, get to see how and why Tom grows to be Lord Voldemort. He was conceived because of a love potion, which means that he doesn't have the capacity to love. With each lesson from Dumbledore, the readers, along with Harry, better understand Voldemort and we even feel sympathy for him. We see him abandoned by his father before his birth, his mother's death and his entrance into life at the orphanage. -- C.M.

Related images:

  Professor Trelawney with crystal ball.  Dumbledore's withered hand wearing horcrux ring.

Pensieve (Comments)

Tags: anger attacks blood cards dark duelling family fear green imprisoned prejudice pride protection purity suppression weak Wizarding laws

Editors: , and

The Harry Potter Canon