How did Dumbledore destroy Marvolo Gaunt’s ring in ‘Half-Blood Prince?’
While the destruction of Lord Voldemort’s Horcruxes was a rather tedious affair in the Harry Potter novels and films, the procedure to destroy the ring proved to be one nasty task that ended up claiming the life of one of the greatest wizards in the Wizarding World: Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we learn that Dumbledore had started hunting down Voldemort’s seven Horcruxes long before he told Harry about their existence. It started with Harry destroying Tom Riddle’s first-ever Horcrux: his diary. He stabs it with the help of a Basilisk fang during the events of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, not knowing that he was killing a part of Voldemort’s soul in the process. The next Horcrux to meet its end was Marvolo Gaunt’s ring, and Dumbledore went to great lengths to both acquire and destroy it.
The history of the ring
The significance of the ring was the Resurrection Stone fitted in its center. As per The Tale of the Three Brothers, the stone was created by Death himself and given to the middle brother, Cadmus Peverell, who used it to summon his dead lover. But as the ring only brought back a watered-down visage of the person, it drove Cadmus mad and he killed himself to join the love of his life in death. But according to Dumbledore, who found the tale to be a mere myth, Cadmus was just a very powerful wizard who created the stone himself and went insane because of its inability to achieve the impossible ⏤ to bring someone back from the dead.
After his death, the stone passed down his family line, ultimately ending up with Marvolo Gaunt. By this time, someone had the stone fitted into the ring, and Marvolo treasured it as a precious heirloom. To him, the ring was the proof of his pure-blood status and was the evidence of his long-gone wealth and prosperity. But he never possessed any knowledge about the powers of the stone and regarded the sign of the Hallows on it as the Peverell coat of arms.
As the story goes, Marvolo and his son were later imprisoned in Azkaban for attacking Muggles. When Marvolo, released earlier than Morfin, came back home, he found that his daughter Merope had left months ago. While Merope tricked the Muggle Tom Riddle Senior into marrying her with the help of a love potion (though he eventually left her upon realizing the truth), Marvolo passed away alone in his house, leaving the ring to his son, Morfin.
Years later, Tom Riddle, aka the future Lord Voldemort, came searching for Marvolo and discovered how his father had left his mother. He proceeded to stun Morfin and used his wand to kill his father as well as his grandparents. He modified his uncle’s memories to make it seem like he committed the killings and ran away with the ring.
While he wore the ring in Hogwarts for some time, he eventually learned all about Horcruxes thanks to Professor Horace Slughorn and turned the ring into one as well. He then proceeded to stop wearing it and decided to protect the ring by hiding it in the Gaunt Shack. To further enhance its protection, he placed a deadly curse on the ring and cloaked its location with many powerful enchantments in order to ward off anyone who stumbled upon his hiding spot or was curious enough to look.
Interestingly, it was never clarified if Voldemort knew that the ring was home to one of the three Hallows and uniting them would make him the “Master of Death” itself. As Dumbledore later explained, he either wasn’t aware that he had the Resurrection Stone or didn’t want to use it he was afraid of the dead.
How did Dumbledore get the ring?
Around the time Harry Potter would begin his sixth year at Hogwarts, Dumbledore correctly deduced that the house of Marvolo Gaunt could cough up some clues about the Horcruxes given Tom Riddle’s habit of stashing them in places that held some significance to him. He hit the jackpot here as he discovered the extra spells hiding something. He managed to remove all of the heavy spells and enchantments, post-which he discovered a golden box under the floorboards containing the object of his query: Marvolo Gaunt’s ring.
Dumbledore’s massive blunder
While Voldemort may or may not have known about the Resurrection Stone, Dumbledore instantly recognized the second Hallow. He had prior knowledge about the Hallows and had been looking for them for years. But despite suspecting that Voldemort must have placed a curse on the ring to discourage the user from tampering with or destroying his Horcrux, his emotions got the better of him and he wore it. He hoped to used the stone to call forth the spirits of his family, especially his sister Ariana, so he could see them one last time and seek forgiveness for being too lost in his mighty endeavors (for the “greater good”) in the past to make them his priority.
As soon as he put the ring on, it kickstarted the fatal curse that started coursing through Dumbledore, beginning with his right hand on which he had worn the ring. The hand took on a dead-like appearance as it blackened and started rotting away.
The destruction of the Horcrux
The headmaster immediately used Godric Gryffindor’s sword, infused with Basilisk venom when Harry used it to kill the beast in Chamber of Secrets, to destroy the Horcrux. While the ring reverted to being a normal jewelry piece containing the Resurrection Stone, thus allowing Dumbledore to casually wear it when he later picked up Harry, the deadly curse killing him didn’t stop. While many have pondered how a wise man like Albus Dumbledore could such a big mistake, the headmaster had once himself admitted his shortcoming:
“I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being ⏤ forgive me ⏤ rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.”
Thanks to his own skills and Severus Snape’s timely intervention, the curse was contained to his withered hand, for the time being. But in spite of their efforts, Dumbledore only got a year to live as eventually, the curse would kill him.
These unexpected events led Dumbledore to ask Snape to kill him before the curse did. He didn’t want his death to go in vain and wanted to use it to ensure two things: that Snape’s loyalty to You Know Who was established beyond doubt and to save Draco Malfoy from committing murder in the Dark Lord’s name. While putting an end to the remaining Horcruxes was no piece of cake, the destruction of the ring came at a heavy price.