The Harry Potter Reread would like to be everyone’s Valentine! In a cool let’s-hang-out-and-watch-movies-instead-of-going-to-an-overcrowded-restaurant sort of way.
This week we’re going to escape from a bleak situation and hang out in a house we thought we’d left for good. It’s chapters 9 and 10—A Place to Hide and Kreacher’s Tale.
Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.
Chapter 9—A Place to Hide
The world seems to slow down, then somebody screams, and everyone begins to panic and flee the wedding. Masked figures are appearing, and Harry and Hermione are looking frantically for Ron. When they find him, Hermione Apparates them all to Tottenham Court Road. The boys are concerned that they don’t have proper Muggle clothes or their supplies, but it turns out that Hermione has everything in her small handbag (she put an Undetectable Extension Charm on it), having a funny feeling that something might happen at the wedding. She hands Ron a change of clothes and Harry his Invisibility Cloak. Harry begins to worry about everyone still at the Burrow, but Hermione insists that they can’t worry about them now, and that they’d be putting everyone in more danger by going back. Ron agrees, saying that the Order will look after everyone.
Ron asks why Hermione Apparated them to this specific location and she admits that she thought they’d be safer in the Muggle world because it’s not where Voldemort’s crew would expect them to go. As she’s trying to think of a good place to hide, men across the street keep whistling at her, inviting her to come have a beer with them. Hermione ducks them into a cafe nearby to sit and think. Under his cloak, Harry feels the Polyjuice Potion wearing off. Ron suggests that they go to the Leaky Cauldron to find out what’s happening, but Hermione insists that they already know. She suggests that the find a place to Disapparate and head for the country. Once there they can send a message via a talking Patronus, which she has been practicing. As Hermione is about to pay for their coffees so they can leave (she cashed out all of her savings before she came to Ron’s house), Harry notices two workmen across from them making identical motions and mirrors them, drawing his wand. Ron notices and pushes Hermione out of the way. One Death Eater is hit and collapses, Ron gets tied up by another jinx, and the waitress is hit by a rebound spell and falls to the floor. Hermione petrifies the other Death Eater when Harry’s wand is knocked from his hand. She moves to cut Ron’s ropes off, accidentally cutting him in the process.
Ron identifies the two attackers as Dolohov and Thorfinn Rowle. Hermione can’t figure out how they were found, and her panic clears Harry’s head. He advises them to lock to door and turn out the lights. Then he suggests that Hermione wipe everyone’s memories, which will keep Voldemort’s group off their tail longer. He cleans the place up with Ron while she goes to work. Once they’re done, Hermione wonder again how they were tracked. She wonders if Harry still has the Trace on him, but Ron insists that’s impossible and points out that they need a safe place to hide and think. Harry suggests Grimmauld Place—there are jinxes up to prevent Snape coming in, and even if he manages it, he’s just one Death Eater compared with how many they might encounter elsewhere. Hermione Apparates them to the house, and they all head inside, freezing on the threshold. Harry eventually takes one step forward and the first jinx is triggered, in the form of Moody’s voice. Their tongues are tied for a moment, but the jinx lifts once it’s clear that they’re not Snape. Then a horrifying spectre of Dumbledore appears, bearing down on them—Harry insists that they didn’t kill him, and the figure explodes. This wakes up Mrs. Black’s portrait, but Harry forcibly shuts the curtains. Hermione does a spell to make certain that they’re the only people in the house, which they are.
They move into the drawing room together, and Ron looks out the window to see if there’s anyone outside. Harry gives a cry of pain, and Ron asks what he’s seeing. Harry tells him that he can only feel his anger, and Hermione scolds him again for keeping his mind open to Voldemort. The sensation builds until Harry is in horrible pain. Mr. Weasley’s Patronus shows up and informs them that the family is safe, but they should not reply because they’re being watched. Ron is relieved, and Hermione asks if they can all sleep in the drawing room so they’re together all night. Harry excuses himself to the bathroom and gives into the pain he’s experiencing, then sees Voldemort punishing Rowle for letting Harry get away. He plans to feed the man to Nagini once it’s all over, but first he has Draco torture the man as well. Harry pulls out of the scene, laid out on the bathroom floor, feeling terrible for what Draco is being forced to do. He hears Hermione at the door, who asks him if he wants his toothbrush, and gets to his feet to let her in.
I love this chapter because it invokes panic so exactingly. The brief quiet after Kingsley’s warning, then then the sudden rush of activity. Harry grabbing Hermione’s hand so he doesn’t lose her, Hermione frantically calling for Ron, and their instant departure from the scene without discussion.
I will smack all the drunk guys catcalling Hermione so fast, I—grrrrr, I just have many angry feelings, and small but useful fists, and I will use them on unnamed unimportant fictional character’s faces.
So we get into this argument about the Trace again, but here’s the reason why this whole thing is woolly at best: The Trace breaks when you’re seventeen. It’s illegal to perform it on an adult, but Hermione rightly points out that there’s no reason why a dark wizard would care about that. To which Ron counters that there were no Death Eaters nearby to place another one on Harry. That all seems to make sense. But….
Here’s the issue: The Trace is on every kid who possesses magical ability. (Ostensibly from the time they begin to express said ability?) It’s never made clear when you’re hit with the Trace as a kid, or how the Ministry knows who to perform it on. If the Trace is needed to know when an underage kid is performing magic, how the hell do they locate Muggle-born kids with magic at all? How do they find out that they’re making accidental magic happen when they’re five or so? Do they just put the Trace on every kid in the UK in case?
Which then leads us to the next logical question—you can only cast the Trace on someone if you’re standing right next to them? Really? By that logic, a Ministry squad would have to be dispatched to discreetly place the Trace on every magical child (or every child, period, if they did place it on every kid just to be safe). It would make much more sense if this were a spell that could be done remotely, otherwise… how? I’m just saying, nothing about this makes sense without more explanation.
The instinct, the skill we see between the trio in this chapter is astounding. It starts off with Hermione, who not only has the presence of mind to have all of their luggage available at the wedding, but made it easily portable by virtue of her Time Lord tech spell/Mary Poppins bag. She’s the one who is level-headed enough to make the escape work out, and if it weren’t for the nasty little spell that Voldemort’s company created to tag people using his name, they would have gotten away with it. (It angers me, how smart that spell is. Deliberately targeting the people who are brave enough to use Voldemort’s true name. Ugh.) Then there’s the fact that she’s been practicing Patronus messages, and knows the theory of Memory Charms well enough to perform them on the first try. We know Hermione is the most gifted of the trio, but this is well above and beyond anything that would have been expected of her.
Once in the cafe, we see Harry’s fighting skills are so honed that he unconsciously mirrors the Death Eaters across the cafe when they move to attack, which is a primary factor in them winning that particular battle, since it allows him to knock out one of the Death Eaters right away. Ron’s strengths are protective in nature—he’s the one who pushes Hermione out of the way during the fight, and while I know that most people view this as looking out for his crush, I don’t think that’s really the point here. Ron is the family-oriented one, the person constantly checking the papers for names of fallen friends, always waiting for the word on everyone’s safety; he’d likely have moved to protect Harry as well if his BFF weren’t already so adept at fighting the enemy.
They make it to Grimmauld Place, and we encounter the jinxes left for Snape. The tongue-tying one makes sense to me, but the Dumbledore’s ghost one strikes me oddly. Perhaps the person who put it in place was expecting Snape to panic at the sight of the man he’d killed (which seems very un-Snape-like to me), but it seems more likely that the spell like that would only be truly effective if the caster expected that Snape felt some guilt or remorse about his actions. And I thought everyone in the Order had pretty much decided against that. I dunno.
Then they get themselves set up in the drawing room and Harry has another one of his Voldy-ttacks, and rushes to the bathroom, where he sees Rowle’s torture at Voldemort’s hands. And then at Draco’s. It’s so painful, but also key to Draco’s development as a person—because this is basically the endgame of his own bullying behavior. It’s an extreme version of it, of course, but Draco can’t fail to realize the similarities. And being forced to perform it when it’s not your game, when the people you’re tormenting are not your perceived enemies, that might even be worse than receiving a mandate to kill your headmaster. Everything that Voldemort does to Draco pushes his family further away from the cause, as Draco begins to realize the price of their allegiances. One of Draco’s prime saving graces as a person is that he takes no joy in brutality. He got close to it in his rivalry with Harry, but their fights were always more about desperation, about Draco trying to stabilize his life and position in the world. His time with Voldemort proves to Draco just how unsuited he is to this life.
Chapter 10—Kreacher’s Tale
Harry wakes the next day, noting Ron and Hermione’s postures (they may have fallen asleep holding hands, which makes him feel lonely). He thinks of his mission, and how his grief about Dumbledore has transmuted since hearing all those horrible things about him at the wedding. He feels the need to get up and do something, so he looks about the house, realizing that it has been searched since the last time he was there. He wonders who might have done it, thinking that it was likely Snape or Mundungus. Phineas Nigellus is missing from his portrait, clearly at Hogwarts. Harry heads upward to the top floor and finds Sirius’ room, which he never inspected before. It is a large space and teenage Sirius had covered most of the walls with Gryffindor paraphernalia, as well as pictures of motorbikes and women in bikinis. (Harry assumes that Sirius put Permanent Sticking Charms on all of it to keep his family from redecorating.) The only Wizarding photograph on the wall is a picture of the Marauders, and Harry perceives that Peter and Lupin simply look pleased to be included… then has to wonder if he’s only seeing that because he knows some of the crueler things that group got up to. As more light comes on, Harry can see that Sirius’ room was searched too, though it doesn’t appear that anything there was taken.
Harry bends down and finds a piece of a textbook, a page from a motorbike maintenance book, and a letter. The letter turns out to be from his mother to Sirius, thanking him for Harry’s birthday present and asking him to pop by sometime soon to cheer James up, as he’s been going stir crazy locked away (it’s after they went into hiding). She also mentions getting visits from Bathilda Bagshot, who has been telling them “amazing stories” about Dumbledore that she’s not sure she believes. Harry is stunned by the letter, noting that he and his mother write their “g”s the same way, feeling connected to her in a way he never had before. He goes back over the letter, learning the details, like the fact that they had a family cat and that Dumbledore had borrowed his father’s Invisibility Cloak. But the letter is incomplete, and ends on words about Dumbledore, so Harry goes frantically looking for the other half. What he comes across instead is the picture Lily promised in her letter, of baby Harry zooming around on a toy broomstick and James’ legs running after him. Harry wonders if the other half of the letter was lost or taken due to useful information.
He hears Hermione calling his name, and she tells him that they panicked when they woke and didn’t know where he was. Harry shows her what he found. They talks about that house being ransacked, and then Harry brings up Bagshot and tells Hermione that she’s still alive and living in Godric’s Hollow, trying to interest her. Hermione sees through it, and doesn’t believe that talking to Bagshot will help them find the Horcruxes. Harry tells her what he heard from Muriel at the wedding as well, but Hermione thinks that Doge is right, that Harry shouldn’t let people like Skeeter and Muriel ruin his memories of Dumbledore. Harry isn’t pleased with her reasoning, but follows her downstairs to rustle up breakfast. As they leave the room, Harry notices the other door on the landing with a sign attached that reads “Do Not Enter Without the Express Permission of Regulus Arcturus Black.” Harry gets the sense that he’s found something then realizes those are the same initials on the note they found in the fake Horcrux locket. He tells Hermione what Sirius told him about his brother, and she agrees that it would fit if he were the person who planted the fake. Hermione calls Ron upstairs, and the three of them enter his room.
Regulus’ room is the opposite of his brother’s, decked out in Slytherin green and silver, the family crest, and collage of clippings on Voldemort. Harry finds a picture of the Slytherin Quidditch team and realizes that Regulus played Seeker for them. The room has been torn through just like Sirius’. Hermione tries to call the locket using Accio, but nothing happens; she figures it could have counter-enchantments on it to prevent that kind of summoning. They go through every nook of the room, but still don’t find it. Hermione decides that it could be elsewhere in the house. She remembers all the terrible things in the house that they’d gotten rid of before, then hits on it; they got rid of a locket when they were cleaning house, one they couldn’t open and tossed in a garbage sack. Harry is horrified until he reminds them that Kreacher kept stealing back things they tried to get rid of. They run downstairs to Kreacher’s cupboard, Harry opens the door, picking up the house-elf’s blankets to shake them out when he doesn’t see anything. When nothing appears, Harry calls for Kreacher, and immediately has to forbid him from using the words “blood traitor” or “Mudblood.”
Harry orders Kreacher to answer him honestly about whether or not he stole the locket back, and Kreacher affirms that he did. Harry asks where the locket is now, and Kreacher tells him it’s gone; Mundungus Fletcher looted everything, including the locket, which means that Kreacher “failed his orders.” He goes to stab himself with a fireplace poker, which Harry prevents by bodily flattening him to the floor and ordering him to be still. Kreacher tells them that he saw Mundungus steal all of his treasures, but couldn’t stop him. Harry asks why he refers to it as “Master Regulus’ locket,” and orders him to tell them everything he knows about it. He says that Sirius ran away, but Regulus had proper blood pride and often talked of the Dark Lord who was going bring wizards out of hiding to rule. He joined Voldemort with he was sixteen. A year later, Regulus came to see Kreacher and told him that the Dark Lord needed an elf, and that he had volunteered Kreacher. Regulus said it was an honor and ordered him to do whatever Voldemort asked. So the Dark Lord took Kreacher to the cave by the sea and had him drink the liquid in the basin as a way of testing the Horcrux’s defenses. Kreacher cried for help, but Voldemort only laughed. Then he dropped the locket in the basin, filled it with potion again, and left Kreacher there. Luckily, the house-elf was able to Disapparate (since elf magic is different from wizard magic). Hermione isn’t surprised that it never occurred to Voldemort that the house-elf might have magic capabilities that he did not.
Kreacher tells them that he told Regulus what happened… and that Regulus got very worried. He told Kreacher to hide himself and never leave the house. Then one night, Regulus came to Kreacher, acting strangely, and told him to take him to the cave. Harry presumes that Regulus asked him to drink the potion again, but Kreacher, weeping, informs him that Regulus produced another locket and told Kreacher to switch them out when the basin was empty. He ordered Kreacher to leave without him and never tell Mrs. Black what happened, and that he was to destroy the other locket. Then he drank the potion himself and was dragged into the water by the Inferi. Hermione goes to hug him, but Kreacher is disgusted. When he calls her Mudblood, as Harry told him not to, he begins to punish himself by banging his head against the floor. Harry tells him to stop. Harry asks what happened when he brought the locket home. Kreacher says that he tried to destroy it, but nothing worked. He failed his orders, and he couldn’t help Mrs. Black when she began to go mad after losing Regulus because he’d been ordered to keep it all a secret. He is sobbing and bruised and miserable recalling the whole thing.
Harry asks why Kreacher would have betrayed Sirius to Voldemort if Regulus had died to bring him down, but Hermione points out that Kreacher doesn’t think that way; he was loyal to people. not causes, and Regulus didn’t bother to explain that he was switching sides before dying, probably because he was trying to keep his family safe, keep them spouting pure-blood rhetoric. She points out the Kreacher had no loyalty to Sirius because he was horrible to the house-elf, and that he probably would have gotten more loyalty from him if he’d been kind, the way Narcissa and Bellatrix likely were. Harry recalls what Dumbledore said to him about Sirius not thinking of Kreacher with feelings like a person. At this, Harry’s entire demeanor changes. He asks Kreacher to “please sit up,” but only when he feels up to it. Then he tells him—as kindly as he can mange—to find Mundungus Fletcher so they can figure out where the locket it. He tells Kreacher that they’re going to finish what Regulus started, so he won’t have died in vain. Kreacher seems to respond to that, so Harry offers the fake locket to Kreacher as a token, telling him that Regulus would have wanted him to have it. Kreacher collapses in another fit of despair, and it takes a half an hour for him to come down from being given a Black family heirloom. He tucks the locket away in his cupboard, as the trio promise to protect it while he’s away. He gives low bows to both Harry and Ron, and even manages a half-hearted salute of sorts to Hermione before Disapparating away.
Harry wakes up fretting over his lack of knowledge about Dumbledore, about how the man never confided in him, and it brings me to the thoughts about mentor relationships. Because there’s a very wide range of mentor-type relationships, and the issue that Harry has is thinking of Dumbledore also as a surrogate father/grandfatherly figure in addition to his mentoring status. This idea that Dumbledore should have told him more about his personal life feels like a betrayal to Harry, even though Dumbledore never made any overtures in that direction. Every bit of his past he showed to Harry concerned Voldemort. So the expectation on Harry’s part is irrational and emotional, and while I understand that, it always makes me chuckle that it never occurs to Harry that perhaps Dumbledore had the right to keep his private life personal. Or that Dumbledore maybe didn’t want to talk about his sad backstory because Harry has plenty of depressing things to care about all on his own.
Harry makes it up to Sirius’ old room for the first time, and the decor is equal parts hilarious and depressing to me. Because Sirius is trying to set himself apart from his family (putting up Muggle pictures on the wall, I cannot imagine what he got for that), but he has very little reference to go on in how to set himself apart. Gryffindor banners are a good start, of course. And then we get mostly motorcycles and hot ladies, not too surprising from your average teenager, but not very imaginative, either. Perhaps bikinis and motorbikes were all that Sirius really cared about at that age. (I actually find that a bit suspect, given how little attention we see him pay to his female classmates in the flashback; he doesn’t seem all that girl crazy, at least in practice.) Perhaps he was fishing Muggle magazines out of bins and asking for them from other students, and this was simply what he got. Perhaps it’s mostly for show, the image he wanted to project (and succeeding in projecting, where the motorbike was concerned). Perhaps he just picked the things he thought would upset his family the most. No matter what, I can’t help but empathize with that desperate desire to differentiate yourself in any way possible, which is true for plenty of teenagers, and harder in Sirius’ case. It’s all sort of funny and groan-worthy, but also deeply depressing when you consider what he was up against.
Okay, but… big question here. This letter from Lily. This letter was sent when Harry was already a year old, well after Sirius would have run away from home, so… what the hell is it doing here? Did it teleport? From wherever Sirius was living right before he got arrested? Did Remus go through Sirius’ old apartment after he was sent to Azkaban and save the letter and then give it back to Sirius when they met up after the Triwizard Tourna—you know what, this is just too ridiculous it is silliest of plotholes. I’m sure there’s some kind of explanation that Rowling has dreamed up, but there’s no way to come up with one on your own without doing some goofy mental gymnastics, so that’s a pretty glaring error.
Barring that, the letter is fascinating for what it reveals. The use of their nicknames lets us know that Lily was eventually told about the Marauders and their escapades. (Ahhhh, Lily calling Sirius “Padfoot” all the time, my heart cannot take it.) The shortening of Peter’s nickname to “Wormy” is not something we’ve encountered before, and it sounds a little meaner than Wormtail—I wonder if it’s a newer development? Harry wonders if Lily’s note about Peter seeming unhappy is due to him having already sold them out to Voldemort, which is likely given the timeframe of the letter. Lily mentions that Dumbledore has the Invisibility Cloak, which confuses Harry, giving us our first clue that the cloak is one of the Deathly Hallows. Lily also mentions that James is trying to hide his frustration at being locked up in the house all the time now that they know Voldemort is after them, which is in keeping with what we know of James Potter—he’s certainly not the kind of person to sit back and let other people take risks on his behalf when he could be out there doing something. The old Gryffindor bravado at work.
Sirius’ gift of a toy broomstick is not only adorable (the image of James chasing baby Harry around while he’s on the broom and Lily snaps pictures, ugh, my heart again), but adds a fun extra bit of relevancy to gifting him the Firebolt in his third year; Sirius clearly always intended to be the purveyor of Harry’s Quidditch supplies as he grew up, firmly placing him in the category of “cool godfather.” The whole thing is just damn sad, getting these little glimpses of what life might have been like for them all if war hadn’t destroyed their lives.
Harry figures out that Sirius’ brother Regulus is the R.A.B. they’ve been looking for, and the trio search his room, and Regulus’ life turns out to be as sad of a story as his older brother’s. We find that little Regulus bought into the propaganda machine hard, and was determined to discover his family’s birthright. Harry realizes that Regulus was a Seeker on the Slytherin Quidditch team, making use of Rowling’s usual flair for forcing Harry to identify with the people he’s up against in the series. And then we get Kreacher’s side of the story, as the search for the locket unfolds.
Wow. There’s so much to unpack here and all of it is so smart in terms of character development, and Rowling’s continual see-saw act with what it means to be a good or bad human being. Sirius and his brother are opposites in many ways, but loyalty is the primary factor here. Regulus is loyal to his family above all, Sirius to his friends. Moreover, Regulus and Sirius both extended the definition of family to Kreacher—and that there is the greatest lesson of them all. We know that Sirius didn’t simply hate all house-elves; this is the guy who insisted that Barty Crouch was a nasty customer for the way he treated Winky. Sirius treated Kreacher like garbage because Kreacher was a part of his family, and he abhorred his family. He was obviously wrong to treat Kreacher that way (for so many reasons), but the distinction is important when looking at how both brothers functioned as people, and decisions they made in their lives.
Then we have Regulus, who cared for nothing but his family. Regulus, who—tellingly—became a Death Eater after his big brother ran away from home. Regulus was eager to join Voldemort and be a part of his crusade for the sake of the family name… until Voldemort used Kreacher as an object and left him to die. Because Kreacher was not an object to Regulus; Kreacher was family. And the mistreatment of his family is ultimately what led to Regulus betraying Voldemort and robbing him of one of his own Horcruxes.
The point is that both Black brothers made terrible mistakes, and had clear defects of character. But both of them were also incredibly loving, loyal people in their own manner. In that way, they’re not all that different from the Malfoys. These men are not meant to be object lessons in heroism, they’re present to point out the ways that good and bad can coexist in people, and the importance of how those aspects are put to use. And from that perspective, it’s fascinating to consider that though Regulus’ views on blood purity are far more damaging and horrific than Sirius’ views, Regulus does more to bring down Voldemort in the end. His love for his family proved more helpful in this fight than Sirius’ general desire to do good.
Some of these nuances must come through to Harry as Kreacher tells his story, and between that and Hermione giving him a good telling off for continuing to hold Kreacher responsible for Sirius’ death, Harry has a complete turnaround. It’s long overdue, but when he gets it, doesn’t hold back. He gives Kreacher total respect and attempts to put things right. Still, Hermione gets the MVP award here again. After all that time pushing her value system onto house-elves in her younger years, she finally has learned that activism is only valuable if it is centered around respect for the group you are trying to help. She praises Kreacher for following Regulus’ orders, even if she finds the fact that he has to take orders reprehensible—because it matters to Kreacher that he did well for Regulus. She explains his perspective to Harry, proving that she has now taken the time to understand his perspective. And this kind of awareness is what will make her an excellent activist, lawmaker, and ally in the future.
And through this chapter, Rowling does the same for the reader; she takes a “distinctly unlovable object” (as Kreacher is referred to in this very chapter), and makes him a character that you empathize with and feel for. You, like Harry and Hermione, understand what matters to Kreacher and how he has been hurt. You acknowledge that his treatment was wrong and you come to care for how he will be treated in the future. If you didn’t already, that is.
With that being said, a parting shot at Mundungus Fletcher, who will be back shortly, and deserves all sorts of horrible jinxes placed on his head for stealing everything that Kreacher valued while laughing. You are the very worst kind of coward, sir. I bite my thumb at you.