Borgin, Burke, and the Half-Blood Prince
In my last essay, “The Foreshadowing of Borgin & Burkes,” I discussed how the seven items Harry sees in Borgin and Burkes in Chamber of Secrets became a recurring motif in the climaxes of Books 2, 4, and 6. However, that is not the whole story because Jo’s symbolism and structure work on many levels.
As before, a shout-out to “The Importance of Borgin and Burkes” by Zarathustra at Leaky’s Scribbulus for inspiring this essay.
We’ve discussed the seven items Harry saw at Borgin and Burkes and where they pop up again. However, moments after Harry’s Flooing faux pas, Draco Malfoy shows up at Borgin and Burkes and also notices several items (CoS 50-53).
However, it’s only six items! I pored over this passage, sure that I must have missed something, but no… for a change, it’s not a seven. I was in quite a quandary over this because since when are there sixes instead of sevens in Harry Potter? Readers, I confess myself dumbfounded. Perhaps it’s six items to correspond with the sixth book? Perhaps it’s a thing where Harry gets seven and Draco gets six? In any event, we’ll proceed with this frustrating list of six.
- The glass eye
- A shelf full of skulls
- The Hand of Glory
- A long coil of hangman’s rope
- The cursed necklace of opals
- The Vanishing Cabinet
Note that there is some redundancy between what Harry sees and what Draco peruses, but we’ll keep the lists separate for now, especially since the phrasing is often different.
Half-Blood Prince Key Moments
Draco’s list of items corresponds to key moments of Half-Blood Prince. This makes sense: HBP is the book focusing most on Draco, and in keeping with ring theory, Books 2 and 6 are the ones where Malfoys play key roles. In addition, Draco notices six items (instead of the expected seven), indicating the sixth book.
What’s interesting here is that the organization is even more meticulous than one might think because the objects show up in the same (chronological) order they are mentioned in. Between this and the elements of the potions riddle (which also show up in HBP in order), I am in awe of the plotting Jo must have done years before ever writing Half-Blood Prince.
First, the glass eye. In the interest of full disclosure, this is the one that I struggled to match after I’d done the others. But I believe this symbolizes Amelia Bones getting murdered (HBP 13). Amelia Bones’s defining physical characteristic seems to be her monocle, which is an obvious match with a glass eye. You may ask why there would be foreshadowing for Amelia Bones’s death when it has so little to do with anything?
To that, I say that her death was supposed to be more relevant than it was. Keep in mind that Chamber of Secrets was published seven years before Half-Blood Prince, and the later books are littered with small instances of Jo changing her mind.¹ Even the most meticulously crafted book series needs a little room to breathe. The evidence seems to be that Amelia Bones was meant to play a much bigger role. Consider the following points:
- Early on in Sorcerer’s Stone, the Bones family is mentioned by Hagrid as “some o’ the best witches an’ wizards of the age” (SS 55-56)… rather the way Sirius Black was casually name-dropped.
- Quite a lot of time was spent on Amelia Bones in Order of the Phoenix. The Order discusses her before the trial (OotP 123), she is front and center at the trial, and she is once again name-dropped by Harry and Susan Bones at the DA meeting (OotP 342).
- Amelia Bones is the only female head of a department at the Ministry of Magic.
- The other department heads we met, Crouch and Bagman, prove to be very important.
- Amelia Bones’s department is where Harry aspires to work someday.
Basically, there’s a reason Amelia Bones featured so prominently in fan fiction between the releases of OotP and HBP. She had all the marks of a character who would prove to be important later on. So I believe that she did originally have a role to play, a role significant enough to be foreshadowed in Chamber of Secrets, but was a victim of editing.
And in some ways, this illustrates the limitations of this exercise I’ve undertaken: We are attempting to reverse-engineer foreshadowing for events that may have been edited out. After all, Jo was not beholden to her foreshadowing, especially when it was this obscure. But it’s a worthwhile exercise anyway… and in the meantime, feel free to bother Jo on Twitter about Amelia Bones.
Second, the shelf of skulls represents Draco getting the Dark Mark tattoo. Fairly straightforward.
Third, the Hand of Glory represents Dumbledore’s charred hand. In terms of timing, note that in “The Prince’s Tale,” Dumbledore says, “I refer to the plan Lord Voldemort is revolving around me. His plan to have the poor Malfoy boy murder me” (DH 681). This conversation happens right after Dumbledore’s hand got cursed, so Draco must have gotten the Dark Mark before this occurred.
Fourth, the coil of hangman’s rope can correspond to two things. The punnier answer is that this reflects the village of Little Hangleton, where all the early memories of Tom Riddle and his family take place (HBP 200). These memories are certainly key to Half-Blood Prince.
The other option is that the coil of hangman’s rope refers to Levicorpus, the spell Harry learns from the Prince that hangs Ron in the air by his ankle. This in and of itself is not a significant occurrence… but it is a harbinger of the story of the Half-Blood Prince, which lends itself to the title of the book. Levicorpus is the first instance of the Prince’s inventions turning a bit nasty, as Hermione says (HBP 241)… an arc that will culminate in Harry using Sectumsempra and then in Snape revealing himself as the Prince.
It’s also worth noting that the motif of hanging pervades Half-Blood Prince. This was one of the key points of the original editorial by Zarathustra. I don’t really know where Jo was going with this, but…
- The Hand of Glory comes from European mythology. Per Jo’s 2000 interview with Larry King, “This is very macabre, but people used to believe in Europe that, if you cut off the hand of a hanged man, it would make a perpetual torch that gave light only to the holder, which is a creepy, you know — but a wonderful idea”.
- Katie Bell is suspended in midair by the opal necklace (HBP 248).
- Billy Stubbs’s rabbit appears to have hanged itself from the rafters (HBP 267).
- Dumbledore “seemed to hang suspended” when he was killed (HBP 596).
I’d love to hear any theories on why there’s a sudden surge of things hanging or being suspended in Half-Blood Prince.
Lastly, the opal necklace and the Vanishing Cabinet actually show up as themselves in Half-Blood Prince, no metaphor required! Obviously, the cabinet is enormously significant since it’s what Draco is working on for the entire book. The necklace is also significant in that it is the first instance of Draco “attacking” as part of his mission to kill Dumbledore.
The timing checks out since the Hogsmeade trip where Katie touches the necklace occurs the day that Harry wakes Ron up with Levicorpus and shortly after Harry views memories of Hangleton.
So yes, Jo Rowling is a genius, and she planted all of this in Chamber of Secrets for an unnoticed payoff in Half-Blood Prince. I never fail to be impressed by her.
Bonus Parallel: Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes
While not as important as the stuff foreshadowing major events in the books, there is yet another fun parallel to be had between the items at Borgin and Burkes and the merchandise at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.
This one, at least, I am comfortable saying is a part of ring theory. In Chamber of Secrets, Harry and the Weasleys plan to go to the bright and cheerful Diagon Alley. Instead, Harry ends up in Borgin and Burkes, a dark and gloomy shop full of items that kill. He sees Draco with his parent but hides in an attempt to avoid him. Ultimately, he is thrilled when Hagrid notices him and takes him from Borgin and Burkes to Diagon Alley.
In Half-Blood Prince, Harry and the Weasleys plan to go to the gloomy (and according to Molly, dangerous) Diagon Alley. But they end up in the bright and cheerful WWW shop, full of joke items to make people laugh. Harry sees Draco with his parent and has a confrontation with them. Draco is attempting to avoid his parent and Harry, but Harry follows him. Harry uses the Invisibility Cloak so Hagrid won’t notice him and sneaks from Diagon Alley to Borgin and Burkes.
Yes, Jo is in fine form here! It’s also worth noting that these are the only two times that Harry and the Weasleys travel together to Diagon Alley. In PoA, Harry is living at Diagon Alley before running into the Weasleys. In GoF and OotP, Mrs. Weasley goes to Diagon Alley to get everyone’s things. Books 1 and 7 don’t apply for obvious reasons.
But the parallels here go even deeper than all the ones I just enumerated because everything down to the objects in the shops are part of Jo’s ring composition. Each item from Borgin and Burkes has a counterpart at WWW, and the counterpart usually does the opposite of the dark item.
Here, we take the items that either Harry or Draco noticed – nine items total after correcting for redundancy between the two sets. (And I don’t think there’s anything to make of the number nine, but I’m sure Arithmancers could think of something.) So let’s go through them.
- A withered hand on a cushion/Hand of Glory – Corresponds to the Decoy Detonators. The Hand of Glory is used to escape everyone’s attention by hiding yourself in darkness since “it gives light only to the holder” (CoS 52). The Decoy Detonators are used to escape everyone’s attention by being very loud and grabbing everyone’s attention – “make a nice loud noise […] giving you a diversion” (HBP 119). The former avoids people noticing it, while the latter exists for people to notice it.
- A blood-stained pack of cards – Corresponds to the Muggle card tricks (HBP 118)
- A staring glass eye – Corresponds to Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder. The eye is presumably for seeing things; the Darkness Powder makes it so no one can see (HBP 119).
- Evil-looking masks – Corresponds to the love potions. The masks are used to deceive people as to one’s identity and inspire feelings of fear (since they’re “evil-looking”). The love potions are used to deceive people about their feelings and inspire feelings of love (HBP 120).
- An assortment of human bones/shelf full of skulls – The skulls correspond to the edible Dark Marks (HBP 118).
- Rusty spiked instruments hung from the ceiling – Correspond to the spell-check quills (HBP 117). Both are instruments, but the Borgin and Burkes ones presumably work less well than they should (they’re “rusty”). In opposition, the WWW quills work better than they should since they correct your spelling in addition to being a writing utensil.
- The Vanishing Cabinet – Corresponds to the guaranteed ten-second pimple vanisher (HBP 121).
- A long coil of hangman’s rope – Corresponds to the reusable hangman (HBP 117).
- The cursed necklace of opals – Corresponds to the Shield Hats. Both are things you wear for a special effect, but where the necklace will place a curse on the wearer, the Shield Hat protects the wearer from curses (HBP 119).
So as evidenced here, even when Jo spends four pages innocuously listing cool stuff in her world, there are still some pretty epic payoffs for anyone paying attention. Let me know if you can think of any other nifty parallels for the stuff at Borgin and Burkes! I’ll just keep combing my well-worn HP books to see what I can find.
¹For example: Florean Fortescue telling Harry about the Hallows, the last word being “scar,” someone learning to do magic later in life, Arthur Weasley not getting killed, the workings of a Fidelius Charm upon the death of a Secret-Keeper, and Hermione’s middle name.