What Else Might the Triwizard Riddles Be Telling Us?

by Kirstie E.R.

J.K. Rowling likes to hide clues in unusual ways, and one of the most cryptic ways to hide a clue is to embed it in another clue. Many people have pointed out that the potions riddle to get the Sorcerer’s Stone foreshadows the seven Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers that are expected for the seven books. The riddle functions as a clue to solving the task, but it also functions as a clue to future books. While the Sorcerer’s Stone riddle has received a fair amount of conversation, the sphinx’s riddle and the merpeople’s riddle in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire have received much less talk, yet they seem to function in a similar way to the Sorcerer’s Stone riddle. On the surface, they appear to serve no greater purpose than to help Harry get through the task alive, yet underneath, they foreshadow possibilities to come in Book 7. I think it is surprising the lack of attention that has been given to these two riddles, but maybe this article will generate more conversation.

 

Part 1: The Sphinx’s Riddle

First think of the person who lives in disguise,
Who deals in secrets and tells naught but lies.
Next, tell me what’s always the last thing to mend,
The middle of middle and end of the end?
And finally give me the sound often heard
During the search for a hard-to-find word.
Now string them together, and answer me this,
Which creature would you be unwilling to kiss?
 (GoF 629)

This is the sphinx’s riddle that Harry has to solve in the Triwizard Tournament. The riddle is broken down into three main clues with the last two lines describing what to do with the answers to the first six lines. The “person who lives in disguise” is a spy; the “middle of middle and end of the end” is the letter D, and the “sound often heard/ During the search for a hard-to-find word” is the sound er. As anyone who has read the book knows, the answer is a giant spider waiting around the bend to protect the Triwizard Cup from unwary contestants. This riddle, however, also seems to point towards a certain character in the Harry Potter universe whom we shall call Severus Snape. Yes, the character that everyone either loves or hates. I believe he is the real subject of this riddle, not the fuzzy Acromantula that nearly bites off Harry’s leg.

First think of the person who lives in disguise,
Who deals in secrets and tells naught but lies.

The first two lines of the poem are obviously introducing us to a certain person who is a spy or who has been a spy. We find out in the chapter right before this that Snape has previously been a Death Eater, but is now reportedly on the good side, where he has acted as a spy on Voldemort before the Dark Lord’s fall (GoF 590-1). After Voldemort’s rebirth, Dumbledore tells Snape this: “You know what I must ask you to do. If you are ready… if you are prepared….” (GoF 713). These are the words that seem to start Snape’s second tour of duty as a spy, and we find out in Prince that Snape seems to be spying for both sides: “The Dark Lord is satisfied with the information I have passed him on the Order.” It also seems obvious that Snape must have been providing the Order with some credible information, or else they would get suspicious (HBP 30). Also, I think it is important to note that Book 4 is when we first find out about Snape’s connection to Voldemort.

Next, tell me what’s always the last thing to mend,
The middle of middle and end of the end?

The next two lines seem to pertain to certain relationships that Snape has had. When looking at Snape’s character, one thing that Snape is constantly having to mend, or will have to mend soon, is relationships with certain key characters, whether good or bad. Because Snape seems to have a continuing problem with keeping good relations, there are a few options that I have come up with. Yet I should mention before I get into this that I believe the words “middle” and “end” point specifically to relationships that have been mended in Book 4, which is the middle book of the series, and that will be mended in Book 7. I also think the word “the” before the last “end” adds emphasis to this being the real end – the end of the entire series.

Mending 1 – Snape and Voldemort

Snape obviously has to “mend” his relationship with Voldemort after the Dark Lord’s rebirth and explain certain things, such as why he has been playing up to Dumbledore for 13 years (HBP 2). It is also possible that he might have to “mend” it again after Book 6 with his murdering Dumbledore instead of letting Malfoy do it. I am not sure if this would cause a rift between Voldemort and Snape that would have to be mended, but it is a possibility. Or Snape could do something else in the opening chapters of Book 7 that will cause a rift, which will have to be fixed by the end of the book.

Mending 2 – Snape and Sirius

If the riddle is not referring to Snape’s relationship with Voldemort, then I think there are two other characters Snape has made (or will need to make) amends with: Sirius and Harry. The first one seems a little illogical, I know. Yet I would venture to say that the last thing to always “mend” between two people is a grudge. In fact, I would say most grudges never heal unless the people are forced to get along for some reason. And the only relationship that I can think of in Goblet where a relationship with Snape is “mended” is the one between him and Sirius.

“What!” you might shout at me. “Snape and Sirius hated each other all through the Order of the Phoenix!”

I cannot deny that the feelings are not ones of friendship between the two men, but Snape and Sirius are willing to work with each other, and I believe, at times, can even tolerate being in the same room with each other. I think this is about as much as could ever be expected of Snape and Sirius, so I will say the relationship has been “mended” as much as it could be. Dumbledore seems willing enough to accept their brief handshake in the first few minutes of the regrouping of the Order at the end of Goblet.

The relationship between Snape and Sirius only talks about the middle relationship that is mended. The “end of the end” relationship, I believe, refers to Snape and Harry. This will certainly have to be “mended.” After all, Snape has killed Dumbledore, and I think he is going to have to work really hard to convince Harry (and the Order) that he is on their side. This is assuming that some note or something from Dumbledore does not arise to clear Snape. Perhaps, the portrait of Dumbledore will clarify Snape’s actions?

Mending 3 – Snape and Harry

Since I find some weaknesses in my previous two arguments, I have created a third possibility. The most likely candidate for the renewed relationship in Book 7 will be between Snape and Harry. Having Snape go back to Voldemort in Book 4 and then mend his relationship with Harry in Book 7 seems to imply that Snape has really been working for Voldemort. And by having Snape renew his relationship with Harry, it would imply that Snape has finally converted over to the good side. In other words, Snape redeems himself. Or it could mean Snape’s renewed relationship with the Dark Lord is viewed as a good thing if Snape’s true loyalties have been with the Order throughout the series, meaning that Snape has never really switched sides and that the mending that happens with Voldemort is not genuine, but a deception. It can also mean that Snape really is working with Voldemort and his “mended” relationship with Harry is a deception that leads Harry into trouble if he is to trust Snape. Whether or not Snape’s renewed relationship with Voldemort is a good or bad thing, I still think Snape and Harry will have to come to terms with their relationship by the end of the series.

Since we do not really know for certain which side Snape is really on, it is impossible to tell which relationships he really needs to mend. What I have tried to do is list some options that I find plausible. There could be more crazy concoctions out there, but these are the ones that I see as most likely.

After going through these options I think it is time to move onto the next two lines of the riddle:

And finally give me the sound often heard
During the search for a hard-to-find word.

The following clue is the one about searching for a sound and trying to find a word. Playing off of the last two lines and the theme of fixing relationships, I find it possible that “the hard-to-find word” might just be “sorry.” After all, many people have a hard time uttering that one little word that means “I was wrong.” What could be harder for a person who keeps his emotions so locked up, that it is virtually impossible to know what the guy is really feeling or thinking? Picturing Snape saying those words is almost an inconceivable notion in my mind, but it is a possibility. Could it be that Snape apologizes for killing Dumbledore? It is the least the guy could do! Or for possibly betraying the Order when he has supposedly been working for them?

Yet just as with Snape’s relationships, I think there is another option for the “hard-to-find word” as well. From Prince, we know that Snape has invented spells. This can be seen when Harry tries to use the Levicorpus spell on Snape and he replies, “You dare use my own spells against me, Potter?” (HBP 604). Snape is obviously talented (I know some of you hate me for saying that, but it is true), and I think this may foreshadow how he may help Harry in Book 7. Perhaps Harry will need to create a certain spell to do something, such as removing a part of Voldemort’s soul from his body, if he is a Horcrux? (This is still a debated theory which has not been fully resolved in my mind.) If this is the case, he will likely have to confide in Snape for help. Or perhaps the spell can be used for something else. However, if Snape does help Harry with a spell, I think it will play a role in killing Voldemort. Looking for the right word to create a desired spell sounds a lot like “searching for a hard-to-find word.”

Now string them together, and answer me this,
Which creature would you be unwilling to kiss?

The last part of the riddle tells us to “string” everything together. Now, Rowling has added some spider clues which refer to Snape in the last two books. One of the more obvious ones is the name of where Snape lives in Prince: Spinner’s End. The second one is a reference to how Snape is described walking when he is 15: “Round-shouldered yet angular, he walked in a twitchy manner that recalled a spider, his oily hair swinging about his face” (OotP 643). Also, I should say that I think the answer to the sphinx’s riddle – a spider – is a direct clue to point us towards Snape. Why exactly Rowling has matched Snape up with being a spider, I do not know. Snape always seems to be compared with bats until Book 5, unless I am wrong. I do think of spiders being weavers of webs, and Snape certainly seems to have woven himself into a web of mystery, which makes it hard to find out who he really is. Unfortunately, it is sometimes devastating for a spider to have their web broken. Could Snape find himself in a dangerous situation in Book 7? Also, spiders weave webs to catch their prey. Could he be after Harry in the next book or perhaps more information to destroy Voldemort? We will just have to see how well Snape watches over his web.

The last word of this riddle I find very ominous because we know there is one creature that specializes in kissing and that is the dementor. Could it be that Snape meets a sticky end by having his soul sucked out? It certainly seems a possibility. It would almost seem likely just after killing Dumbledore. Perhaps Harry will not have to resort to killing Snape himself; maybe a dementor will do it for him.

 

Part 2: The Merpeople’s Riddle

Come seek us where our voices sound,
We cannot sing above the ground,
And while you’re searching ponder this:
We’ve taken what you’ll sorely miss,
An hour long you’ll have to look,
And recover what we took,
But past an hour — the prospect’s black,
Too late, it’s gone, it won’t come back.”
 (GoF 463)

It is written in the same format as the sphinx’s riddle; the first six lines are in couplets that give clues as to what should be looked for, and the last two lines lead us to the conclusion. It sounds forbidding to Harry when he first hears it. He doesn’t like the idea of someone taking something he would miss. We know the riddle talks about the merpeople in the lake taking Ron, and Harry having to retrieve him within one hour.

Come seek us where our voices sound,
We cannot sing above the ground,

In order to understand this, we need to think of a place where Harry has heard voices that do not seem to match normal everyday speech and voices that he cannot understand. One such instance is in the Department of Mysteries when he stands next to the veil: “There were faint whispering, murmuring noises coming from the other side of the veil” (OotP 774). We also see that Harry is unable to understand these voices because he shouts at them to get clarification for what they are saying. If we look more closely at the words “above the ground,” we get a better understanding of those who are beyond the veil. Now, there is a general understanding that when someone is referred to as being “in the ground,” they are dead. We know that the people who are beyond the veil are dead because Sirius dies when he passes through it. Luna also tells us that our loved ones who have died are just beyond the veil (OotP 863). If we look at the first two lines of the riddle again, it seems logical to conclude that those who are dead cannot communicate with the living. Hence, they cannot “sing above the ground.” This part of the riddle is establishing a place and also gives us important information: that dead people cannot communicate very well with the living.

And while you’re searching ponder this:
We’ve taken what you’ll sorely miss,

The first line obviously refers to Harry searching for something (the other Horcruxes perhaps?) and seems to state that the answer to what he is searching lies in what they have taken. Since the only thing that the veil could logically take from Harry could be people he cares about, it seems logical that what he misses will likely be a person. There are many people in Harry’s life that have been taken from him: his parents, Sirius, Dumbledore, and perhaps others which we do not yet know about. When Harry is next to the veil and hears the voices, he asks Ron if it is him talking behind the veil; some people have pointed out that this could be a foreshadowing Ron’s death, but it could be Rowling’s way of directing our attention back to the merpeople’s riddle, where Ron is what Harry would “sorely miss.”

An hour long you’ll have to look,
And recover what we took,

This is where things could start to get a little strange, yet if you have stayed with me this far, I think you can probably tolerate what I am going to propose next: Harry will venture to the other side of the veil with the possibility of returning alive. Sounds a little nuts? The riddle clearly states that Harry will have an hour to look for something, and since it has been shown that this riddle is likely referring to the veil, as well as the Hogwarts lake, it seems likely that Harry will get a chance to “cross over” for a short period of time in order to search for what he has lost. Perhaps Harry was right in taking that time limit seriously. Maybe it really will matter in his next search. I find it hard to believe that someone would be allowed to linger in the veil for any amount of time they wanted to.

If the last line offered a strange possibility for what is to come, the next line takes it a step further. I think it is clear in saying that, if Harry manages to find what he is looking for, he will be able to take it back to the living world with him. This sounds almost insane and it almost seems to run counter to the permanency of death that Rowling has worked to establish in her novels. Once someone is dead they cannot come back. The question that should always be asked, however, is whether someone is really dead. Perhaps we should now look at the candidates for whom Harry might be recovering.

But past an hour — the prospect’s black,
Too late, it’s gone, it won’t come back.

I believe the word “black” is the key clue in these last two lines. Obviously, almost everyone who is close to Harry that has died (and who might possibly die) could hold some vital information that could be important for him to find the remaining Horcruxes, yet I think this word limits the candidates down to two people: Sirius and Regulus Black. Dumbledore is the first person that comes to mind if you think of someone who would have vital information, maybe even Harry’s parents, but I think Rowling is pointing us toward the person who will really be instrumental in helping Harry in his search. The question then becomes, “Which Black is it?” Regulus seems to be the first candidate if you believe that he is the one who possibly wrote the RAB note found in the fake Horcrux. It seems possible that he would have information that might help Harry, such as whether the Horcrux he stole was really destroyed; Harry might want to be totally certain of this before staging a final encounter with Voldemort, or he might need help with finding another Horcrux or destroying it.

When looking at the evidence to support Sirius being the one Harry is seeking, I would like to point out the manner of Sirius’ death. Sirius does not die in a normal fashion; he is not killed outside of the veil like Dumbledore or Cedric Diggory. He just has his spirit supposedly go through it – his whole body goes through it, and he might not have died if he had not taken that unlucky fall. It was the fall through the veil that kills Sirius and nothing else. This makes Sirius’ case unique, and it is possible that his death could be an exception to the rule of permanence when dying. Maybe Sirius’ body can somehow be taken out of the veil? Of course, we do not know the exact details of Regulus’ death, but the fact that he is killed by Death Eaters seems to point towards a death more like Cedric’s or Dumbledore’s. Also, when asked whether we would ever see Sirius again, Rowling cryptically replies, “I couldn’t possibly answer that for fear of incriminating myself.” Could the form that we see Sirius in be the form that he is in on the other side of the veil? Rowling also replies in a question about whether we will hear anything about Regulus is, “He’s pretty quiet these days.” Even though after reading Book 6 it seems likely that we have heard more about Regulus, Rowling seems to be leaving a wider door open for Sirius than Regulus.

Another piece of evidence that could help us sort out which one Harry might be after is in the riddle itself. The riddle specifically refers to something that Harry will “sorely miss.” I doubt Harry will miss Regulus because he has never met him, yet we do know that Harry has missed Sirius, and I think this is an important clue to take into consideration. Also, Sirius has yet to play a major role in helping Harry, at least in my mind anyway. For being somewhat of a major character, he has yet to explicitly contribute to helping Harry in any way, apart from being a sort of role-model. But even then, it turns out that he is probably not the best person for Harry to model his life after. Because of Sirius’ apparent lack of any role that has been extremely beneficial in the long term, I think this might be where Sirius is able to provide Harry with special information he needs to know. What exactly that information might be and why Harry might go to him, I cannot exactly say. Those answers will have to wait for Book 7.

 

Conclusion

I hope nothing I have said is too radical, but I think my speculations are well founded. I cannot imagine Rowling passing up the opportunity to hide an important clue in a riddle that seems to serve no other function than to get Harry through a challenge alive. She has apparently done it with the potions riddle in Stone because, as of Prince, we are still able to match up Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers with the order of the way the potions would have been lined up on the table. If Rowling had the ability to put a double or hidden meaning in a riddle all the way back in the first book, then I think it is an insult to her ability if we did not think she could do it again three books later. It could be that my conclusions for what these riddles mean are a little bit off, but I feel confident that there is more to the riddles than what meets the eye. CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

P.S. I need to thank my mother for helping me out with the merpeople’s riddle. Thanks!

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