The Harry Potter Reread has an odd ache in its pinky for no good reason at all. It would like to apply for a robot body, please.
This week we’re gonna make a very scary plan and then enact that scary plan. It’s chapters 25 and 26 of The Deathly Hallows—Shell Cottage and Gringotts.
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 25—Shell Cottage
Over the next few days at Shell Cottage, Harry opts to spend a lot of time outside, to look at the ocean and be away from people. He worries over leaving the Elder Wand to Voldemort, noting that it’s one of the first moment in his life where he’s ever chosen not to act. Ron is doubtful that they did the right thing, while Hermione is supportive, and both of these things throw Harry off. Hermione insists now that the Elder Wand is evil and that Harry could never have broken into Dumbledore tomb to get it anyhow. Ron keeps suggesting that Dumbledore could truly be alive, considering the doe Patronus and the sword and the eye Harry saw in the mirror fragment. Fleur comes in on the third day to tell Harry that Griphook wants to speak with him.
Griphook has decided that he will help Harry, but only for payment. What he wants is the sword of Gryffindor. Harry tells him that they can’t give him the sword, and Ron suggests that he take something else from the Lestrange’s vault. This angers Griphook; he has no intention of taking anything that he has no right to. Ron tries to explain that the sword is theirs as Gryffindors, since the sword was made for Gryffindor himself, but Griphook denies this. He says that the sword belonged to Ragnuk the First and was taken by Gryffindor, and that the sword remains his price for helping them. Harry asks to have a minute to discuss it. Downstairs, Harry asks Hermione if the sword was truly stolen by Gryffindor. Hermione points out that history tends to be dodgy about wizards doing wrong to other races, but she’s never come across that claim. Ron and Hermione debate a moment over the morals of the situation, with Hermione talking about the mistreatment of goblins, and Ron insisting that goblins have killed wizards too. Ron suggests that they tell Griphook they’ll give him the sword and then swap it for the fake in the Lestrange vault. Hermione points out that he’d know the difference, and also that attempting to double-cross Griphook is a perfect example of why goblins don’t trust wizards.
Harry is bothered by the story, by the idea that Gryffindor would be a common thief. He wonders if Griphook is lying, or if the goblin version of history is wrong. Harry suggests a sideways truth—that they tell Griphook he can have the sword, but that they’re unspecific as to when. Neither Ron nor Hermione like the plan, but Harry can’t think of anything else. He makes the offer to Griphook, who accepts, and they begin planning their break-in. It takes weeks to plan, and they only have enough Polyjuice Potion left for one person. Harry finds that the more he interacts with Griphook, the less he likes him, as the goblin is bloodthirsty and completely fine with the idea of wizards getting hurt in their escapades. He also doesn’t want to eat with humans, and asks for all his food in his room until Bill goes and has a chat with him. Harry apologizes to Fleur for having to put up with it, but she insists that things will get easier soon with Ollivander going to Muriel’s. When Harry mentions that they will be out of her hair shortly too, she gets very concerned, but an interruption from Luna and Dean helps Harry end the conversation. As Ollivander is leaving, Fleur asks him if he could return Muriel’s tiara to her; Griphook comments that it was made by goblins, but Bill replies that it was paid for by wizards.
Bill delivers Ollivander to his family and tells them how everyone is doing. The twins are operating their store via mail order form Muriel’s house, driving her crazy, but she was happy to get the tiara back, saying that she thought they’d stolen it. At mention of it, Luna brings up the headdress her father was making, saying that it was an attempt to recreate the lost diadem of Ravenclaw. Suddenly, there’s a bang on the front door: it’s Lupin. Tonks has had her baby, and they’ve named him after her father Ted (they plan to call him Teddy). Lupin asks Harry if he’ll be the godfather, and he agrees. Bill fetches wine and they all toast. Lupin tells them that he thinks the baby is a Metamorphmagus, and that his hair has already started changing color. Griphook is the only one who seems untouched by the news, and he slips off to his room. Lupin finally insists that he has to get back, and promises to bring pictures soon. After he’s gone, Bill takes Harry aside, saying that he knows Harry is planning something with Griphook and that he knows something of the relationships between wizards and goblins having worked for Gringotts since school. He asks Harry what he wants from Griphook and what he has promised in return, but Harry can’t tell him.
Bill goes on to explain that if Harry has made a deal with Griphook, he must be very careful, especially if that bargain involves treasure. He tells him that goblins ideas around ownership and payment are different from human ones. He says that the relationship between wizards and goblins has fault of both sides, but that some goblins—particularly ones that work at Gringotts—do not think that wizards should be trusted with treasure and that they do not respect goblin ownership. This is because to a goblin, the true owner of any object is the one who made it. The person who pays for it is simply renting the object. He’s sure that Griphook is one of those goblins, and that he believes that any goblin-made object should be returned to them once the purchaser dies. He tells Harry again to be careful and says that he thinks that breaking into Gringotts is less dangerous than going back on a deal with a goblin. It occurs to Harry, as Bill leaves the room, that he is becoming as reckless a godfather to little Teddy Lupin as Sirius Black was to him.
Harry is freaking out over choosing not to act, and he has a fair point—it is the first time he’s ever stood aside when he could do something. And this is another important lesson in a hero’s journey: patience. In addition, Hermione agrees with him, and at this point, Harry should just count going by Hermione’s instincts a win.
They have this discussion with Griphook about the sword where he insists that Gryffindor stole it, and Harry has a seriously averse reaction to the mere idea. He very honestly admits to Hermione that he thinks of their whole deal with Griphook differently based on whether or not there is truth to that claim. There is a moment where he thinks of how he’s always been proud to be a Gryffindor, a founder who did not hold with the pureblood ideals of Slytherin. And this brings me to another inevitable point in any adult’s life that Harry is experiencing—the point where they learn that many of the things they are taught in school are full of crap. When Americans students are small (at least, when I was a kid), we were taught that the first Thanksgiving was when the Pilgrims and the Native Americans sat down to a feast and put aside any and all differences in the name of friendship. There was never any mention of the settlers displacing these people by taking ownership of land they never had right to, or the disease that they brought with them, or what the country would continue to do to native populations in the years going forward. We were taught this way to make us feel good about the history of the United States. And when we eventually got some more education under our belt, the cognitive dissonance was often acute.
Here, we have a similar situation. Harry has always assumed that Godric Gryffindor was a swell guy because he’s been juxtaposed with Slytherin, who seems like a great big jerk. But just because Gryffindor was totally cool with Muggleborn students doesn’t mean that guy had no prejudices. It doesn’t mean that he was hanging out in the Forbidden Forests with all the centaurs and giving the house-elves in the kitchen Christmas presents. So Harry is coming to realize that the man his house is named for might not be so awesome.
This brings us to what this chapter teaches us about goblin culture, specifically their ideas about ownership. And it’s creepy because while Bill says that Harry probably knows a bit about the wars between wizards and goblins from History of Magic class (which Harry obviously doesn’t because it was never a subject he enjoyed), the whole concept of goblin ownership is clearly not covered in the textbooks or anywhere else that’s easily accessible. Which means that it’s being actively suppressed via omission to a point. If this cultural divide isn’t well-known among magic-users, it’s because the magical population throughout history decided it wasn’t important enough to educate people on. And that in itself is a form of silencing. It drives a bigger wedge between the wizarding world and goblins because magic users decided long ago that they thought the goblin concept of ownership was rubbish, and that they wouldn’t bother to honor or even explain it going forward. The only reason Bill knows about it because because he’s spent so much time around them.
Wizards can say what they like about the goblins themselves not cooperating, but why would you want to cooperate with a group of people who make it clear that they don’t intend to respect your cultural contracts? Especially when these contracts are centered around creation and economy? That’s all about power. But it does make me wonder—how did these groups ever come to a position of commerce in the first place? I suppose we could guess that goblins have a love of gold and wizards had access to a lot of it. But how did some of these initial contracts emerge? Did a wizard who bought a goblin-made goblet know they were expected to give it back once they had died, or did that only become clear later, when goblins expressed anger over not having their works returned to them? And how do goblins account for ownership amongst each other? Griphook wants to reclaim the sword because he doesn’t believe it should belong to wizards, but he’s obviously not the goblin who made it. If he takes it for himself, does he believe he’s keeping it in trust for his kind? Do goblins allow this? Or was he perhaps related to Ragnuk the First? There’s still so much we don’t know.
And then, of course, there’s the question of the magical properties of the sword. Obviously, goblin-made items have a certain power to them, but it doesn’t seem likely that the sword allies itself with Gryffindors because Ragnuk the First made it that way. Which means that it had to be Gryffindor’s doing himself. Now we have a brand new set of questions where ownership is concerned, but namely: Is a wizard allowed to alter a gobin-made item while it’s in their possession? And even if they are, was Gryffindor’s particular alteration a step too far? I assume that the engraving of his name was the doing of Ragnuk, as the sword was made for Gryffindor, and I doubt that goblins have any particular issue with their works bearing different names. But making the sword a sort of talisman to the Gryffindor house means that it can be plucked from whoever possesses it at any time. In essence, the sword has no true owner, because it has been altered into a weapon of service. It exists to facilitate Gryffindors. Would that bother goblins provided that the sword was always returned to them after its use? Or is that magical alignment of loyalty an insult of the highest order to goblins?
And then, ultimately, there’s Harry choice to betray Griphook, regardless of what eventually goes down. Harry knows it’s wrong. He knows that he has to lie to this goblin in order to stop Voldemort, and that his highest responsibility lies there. But if we’re real honest here, the narrative absolves him of having to take that responsibility; Griphook gets away with the sword, and yet it comes when it’s needed, as it always will. Harry doesn’t end up having to make good on that choice. Would we think less of him if he had?
Remus shows up and there’s a baby! And he asks Harry to be the godfather. And while Harry has that super sharp thought about being almost as reckless of a godfather to Teddy as Sirius was to him, I have to say that this is the point where I feel like the narrative tips its hand a little in terms of Harry’s survival. The point is, we know there’s very little chance of harm coming to Teddy, and Harry being named as his godfather is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. It’s Cycle of Life stuff. Harry has to live to be a good godfather to that baby. It’s just necessary at this point. It’s also wonderful and sad, and I will now cry all the tears.
Side thought: Remus’ comments about how both Teddy and Tonks manifested their Metamorphmagus powers in their first day made me wonder if this is common for that particular brand of magic-user. Because if it is, that means that they manifest their abilities even faster than your average magic kid. Which is kinda cool.
The plan is set, and they’re ready to act. Hermione is going to be using the last of the Polyjuice Potion to become Bellatrix, and gets to use her real wand as well. She hates the idea, feeling that the wand doesn’t work right for her because it’s like a piece of Bellatrix. Ron suggests it might help her get into character, but Hermione can’t think past what the wand has done; torturing Neville’s parents, killing Sirius. Hermione misses her wand and laments that Ollivander couldn’t have made her a new one—he just sent one to Luna. Harry finds that Draco’s wand is doing rather well for him, and figures that the real reason Hermione can’t get Bellatrix’s wand to do well for her is because she didn’t win it directly. Harry tells Griphook that they’re checking last-minute stuff, and that they’re leaving tomorrow. They told Bill and Fleur not to see them off so they won’t get too suspicious, and also told them that they wouldn’t be coming back. Bill lent them another tent as the old one was lost when they were captured. (Hermione managed to hide her beaded bag from the Snatchers by stuffing it down her sock.) Harry is glad to be leaving, and more glad to know they’ll soon be rid of Griphook, though they still haven’t figured out how they’re going to keep from handing over the sword. He’s sure that the goblin is suspicious of their double-cross. Harry doesn’t get much sleep that night, sure somehow that this plan is going to go wrong. They gather in the morning and Harry observes green shoots pushing through the ground of Dobby’s grave.
Hermione comes out as Bellatrix and transfigures Ron, and Griphook climbs onto Harry’s back and they go under the Invisibility Cloak. They Disapparate to the Leaky Cauldron. Tom bids Hermione-as-Bellatrix hello, and when she answers politely, he seems shocked. Harry warms Hermione to start treating people like garbage or she’ll give them away. Diagon Alley itself is unrecognizable. Many shops have boarded up, and some new Dark Arts ones have appeared in their place. Posters of Harry are tacked up all over. There are beggars about insisting that they are truly wizards. A man with bloody bandages asks what has been done with his children, insisting that Bellatrix knows. When he goes for her throat, Ron Stuns him. Travers appears to talk to Bellatrix and Hermione greets him rudely. Griphook says he a Death Eater and Harry relays the information so she can recover. He says that he’s surprised to see her as he’d heard that everyone at Malfoy Manor had been confined to the place following Harry’s escape. Hermione tells him that the Dark Lord is forgiving of his most faithful servants, giving an excellent impression of Bellatrix. Travers isn’t pleased, but looks appeased of his suspicions. He asks how the Stunned man offended her, but Hermione insists it isn’t important. He complains about the beggars, saying that one of them asked him to plead her case as a Witch to the Ministry last week.
Travers asks whose wand Bellatrix is using (obviously knowing that hers was taken), but Hermione presents it, saying that he’s been listening to the wrong rumors. He asks after Ron, who she introduces as Dragomir Despard, a Transylvanian wizard sympathetic to Voldemort’s aims. It turns out that Travers is also on his way to Gringotts, citing the necessity of gold even if he does hate having to be around goblins. The front of Gringotts now has wizards with Probity Probes, which detect spells of concealment and magical objects. Harry Confunds both guards, and Hermione insists that they’ve already scanned her when one of them tries to use the probe. Harry look up at the silver inner doors to the bank and has a flashback to his first time there with Hagrid. Hermione lets Travers present his key first, and when she steps up, a goblin asks for her identification, saying that her wand will suffice. Griphook tells Harry that they’ve clearly been warned, and tells him to use the Imperius Curse. Harry does, and then has to use it on Travers as well to avoid detection. The goblin behind the counter, named Bogrod, offers to take Bellatrix to her vault, shaking off the warning of another goblin who insists that they have specific instructions about the Lestrange vault. Harry calls Travers to come with them. Once they’re inside, Harry takes off the Cloak and tells Hermione that he used the Imperius Curse on them. Ron wonders if they should abandon the plan, but Harry figures they should push on, not knowing what’s going on in the main hall now.
Griphook tells them that they need Bogrod to operate their cart, but their won’t be any room for Travers. Harry Imperios him against so he hides. Harry hears shouting in the bank as everyone clambers into the cart and it sets off. It barrels down farther than Harry has ever been into Gringotts, and they end up going under a waterfall. The cart flips over and tosses them out, but they land alright because Hermione uses a Cushioning Charm. The Polyjuice has also worn off her, and Ron is back to normal as well. Griphook informs them that this was the “Thief’s Downfall,” made to wash away enchantments and concealments. The bank has set off its defenses, knowing their are impostors inside. Harry has to use the Imperius Curse on Bogrod again, as Griphook claims he’s still needed. Hermione hears people coming and casts a Shield Charm. As they continue, they come across a dragon, one that’s been held underground for years and is partially blind. It’s chained to the floor, and they have to use the “Clankers” brought by Bogrod to fend it off; it’s been trained to expect pain when it hears them and keep away. They make Bogrod press his hand to the vault door, and it opens—they begin their search. The door closes behind them, so they light their wands and keep looking. It turns out that everything in the vault has Gemino and Flagrante Curses on it, so anything they touch will burn them, and multiply.
Finally, Harry spots the Hufflepuff Cup up toward the ceiling, but they can’t call it to them. He tries to reach it using the sword of Gryffindor, but there’s no use. Hermione uses Levicorpus to get Harry mobile, but he still hits more objects that multiply. They lose Griphook under all the treasure and Hermione tries to protect them from burning with an Impervious Charm. Harry liberates himself and Griphook from the mess and lifts Griphook onto his shoulders. The goblin grabs the sword, which is attached to the cup, and flings the Horcrux through the air. Harry catches it and doesn’t let go, even at it burns him. The vault opens again from the outside and Harry falls out on a wave of treasure. He shoves the cup into his pocket and reaches for the sword, but Griphook runs into the throng of goblins surrounding them, and calls them thieves. The trio Stupefy as many goblins as possible, but they keep coming. The dragon lets out a spurt of fire over the goblins and Harry gets a crazy idea—he untethers it, tells Ron and Hermione to climb on, and the dragon begins to fly toward freedom. Hermione helps the dragon enlarge the passageway, and Harry and Ron follow suit. The dragon makes it to the marble hall, shoves its way through the metal doors, and takes off into the sky with the trio aboard.
There’s a weird thing at the start of this chapter where Hermione is talking about how horrible Bellatrix’s wand is, and Harry is thinking of repeating her words back to her when she was giving him crap about not being able to use the hawthorne wand. And the point is that he thinks he probably shouldn’t because they’re about to break into a bank, and I’m thinking no Harry, the point is you should never say that about a wand that TORTURED HER. For god’s sake.
There’s also the point about getting an extra magic tent from Bill since their old one got left behind. And it occurred to me that if the protective charms didn’t hold, any old Muggle could just happen upon that tent, duck inside and be like… whoa. (I want this to happen.)
Then Hermione has to transfigure Ron’s features and asks how he looks:
“Well, he’s not my type, but he’ll do,” said Harry.
Harry. HARRY. ilu. 10 points to Gryffindor for levity.
The state of Diagon Alley is a perfect window into how far things have fallen, and a perfect point of galvanization; after seeing this, we know we need to start racing for the finish line. The entry into Gringotts is appropriately tense, and also scary for Harry having to just Imperius a bunch of people. And then we reach the dragon.
The dragon is there to remind us, yet again, that even with all the garbage that goblins have had to put up with as a race, it doesn’t mean that they are completely “good” people in every aspect (unlike the house-elves, who have never done anything remotely horrific as far as we know). It reminds us that they do have a measure of power, and that they have put that power to terrible use. There is a similarity to the centaurs here, both peoples that do not want any part of wizarding affairs, who commit acts that humans would find abhorrent even as they’re being stepped on by the wizarding community. This dragon is dangerous, but it is an innocent, and it is living out a life of constant abuse to protect a bank. Pointedly, wizards are complacent in this abuse; the people who have vaults in this part of the bank undoubtedly know what is protecting their treasure, and they don’t care.
Outside of that, I like this break-in sequence quite a bit because it’s a properly tense situation that builds on what we already know of Gringotts and puts it to good use. The idea that the Lestrange vault has all these charms placed on the riches to prevent retrieval is fascinating, and also good for action in a sequence that could have easily just been people looking around a dark room. Of course, Griphook takes the sword and runs for it, leaving Harry with another Horcrux he has no means of destroying. But we don’t really have time to worry about it.
Instead, we get to free a dragon.
It’s the perfect cap to such a rough journey. They have the Horcrux, they have to escape, and while they do, they get the chance to liberate a creature who desperately deserves it. It is a beautiful solution to how they could possibly break out of such a dire situation; let the goblins’ own “tool” work against them. The idea that the goblins would use a dragon for this purpose is utterly believable, and so the whole sequence falls together beautifully. And our heroes get to be more heroic for doing a good deed while getting what they need. It’s a damn smart plot point.