The Foreshadowing of Borgin and Burkes
Welcome back to the Three Broomsticks! We’re going to take a break from puzzling about Fantastic Beasts and debating what canon is to do what I love best: Dive deep into the HP books and marvel at Jo’s genius.
I tackled a similar objective in my series of articles on the symbolism of Sorcerer’s Stone (“Seven Obstacles for Seven Books” and so on). The seven obstacles in Sorcerer’s Stone are an essayist’s dream: symbolism, patterns, parallels, and all the foreshadowing one could wish for! I’d written about them fairly extensively in 2014 because when you begin talking about sevens in Harry Potter, essays tend to expand. Since then, I’ve had a hankering to decipher some more of the patterns in the series but didn’t really know what to tackle (my attempts to figure out multiple meanings for the Gringotts poem keep failing).
Until one day, I was reading an old essay over at Leaky’s Scribbulus project, “The Importance of Borgin and Burkes” by Zarathustra¹. That essay enumerated the objects present in Borgin and Burkes when Harry accidentally Floos there in Chamber of Secrets in an attempt to divine what’ll happen in Deathly Hallows. Seeing the list of items, the wheels began turning… because whenever Jo starts listing stuff for seemingly no good reason, you can bet those things are rife with meaning.
Harry immediately notices six items and moments later notices the Vanishing Cabinet to hide in when Draco shows (CoS 49–50). Ergo, Harry notices seven items (because of course, it’s seven):
- A withered hand on a cushion
- A blood-stained pack of cards
- A staring glass eye
- Evil-looking masks
- An assortment of human bones
- Rusty spiked instruments hung from the ceiling
- The Vanishing Cabinet
So the wheels in my head have been turning (a dangerous pastime, I know!). After a lot of color-coded notes, I claim that these seven items show up again as key elements of the climax of the even-numbered books: Chamber of Secrets, Goblet of Fire, and Half-Blood Prince.
The skeptical readers will doubtless interject with a resounding “WHY?” The explanation as to why all these parallels exist is unclear. On the one hand, especially because it applies to specifically Books 2, 4, and 6, this would appear to be an outgrowth of ring theory, John Granger’s much-lauded explanation for how Books 2 and 6 parallel each other with Book 4 as the midpoint paralleling them as well.
On the other hand, since it’s an earlier book foretelling what is to come, it could just be good old-fashioned JKR foreshadowing, much like what she did with the climax of Sorcerer’s Stone.
And there’s always the third option: I’m seeing a Crumple-Horned Snorkack where there is only an Erumpent, and this is all fortuitous coincidence. But that’s no fun!
I don’t concern myself with why these things line up as they do. So attribute it to what you will, and let’s dive in!
The seven items that Harry sees in Borgin and Burkes have a habit of popping up, in an alternate form, in the climaxes of all the even-numbered books. We know this isn’t another Seven-by-Seven ordeal because even the most eagle-eyed among us would struggle to match them up with Books 1, 3, 5, and 7. But in 2, 4, and 6, they are present, just waiting to be found. Because to be honest, I did not set out to find these items recurring in each book – planning this essay had more shrieked epiphanies than almost any other I’ve written.
Chamber of Secrets Climax
So let us begin with Chamber of Secrets.
- A withered hand on a cushion — reflects Harry’s arm, which gets stabbed by the Basilisk’s fang (CoS 320)
- A blood-stained pack of cards — reflects Riddle’s diary, another paper object filled with ink and water and who knows what else (CoS 322)
- A staring glass eye — reflects the Basilisk’s lethal eyes
- Evil-looking masks — reflects Tom Riddle himself, who masked himself as a friend and ally to Harry and Ginny before revealing his true colors
- An assortment of human bones — reflects Ginny Weasley. Even the language is a deliberate callback: “Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever” (CoS 293).
- Rusty spiked instruments hung from the ceiling — reflects a key metal instrument: the Sword of Gryffindor
- The Vanishing Cabinet — reflects the pipes hiding the Chamber of Secrets, another magical and hidden way of getting to a place
Goblet of Fire Climax
We can do the same exercise for Goblet of Fire.
- A withered hand on a cushion — reflects Pettigrew’s hand, which he chops off to resurrect Voldemort (GoF 642)
- A blood-stained pack of cards — reflects the “blood of the enemy,” Harry’s blood, which is also used in the Resurrection Potion (GoF 642)
- A staring glass eye — reflects that Mad-Eye Moody is the one who made this all happen, the imposter who is the key to everything
- Evil-looking masks — reflects the Death Eaters, who are evil and wear masks
- An assortment of human bones — reflects the “bone of the father,” the bones of Tom Riddle, Sr., the third key ingredient for the potion (GoF 641)
- Rusty spiked instruments hung from the ceiling — reflects Priori Incantatem. The instruments here are the wands, which Ollivander actually refers to as “instruments” once (DH 494). They are “rusty” because they are not working properly, causing Priori Incantatem when they should be dueling. And the hanging from the ceiling is indicative of Harry and Voldemort flying up when all this happens: Harry “felt his feet lift from the ground. He and Voldemort were both being raised into the air” (GoF 663).
- The Vanishing Cabinet — Reflects the Portkey, a magical item that transports Harry to Hogwarts
Half-Blood Prince Climax
There are several things we can do with the items from Borgin and Burkes and Half-Blood Prince – there are some bonus parallels because CoS and HBP are mirrors of each other. Those will have to await a follow-up essay because things were getting too lengthy. So let us perform a similar exercise to what we’ve done thus far and find the items as key parts in the book’s climax.
- A withered hand on a cushion — reflects Harry’s scraped hand in the cave. His “grazed forearm” is bloody (HBP 578). Note that it’s not Dumbledore’s hand because that’s not relevant to the book’s climax; that will be used in a different parallel. Observe the symmetry: In both the climaxes for CoS and HBP, the withered hand reflects Harry’s hand or arm getting bloodied and injured. It’s also worth noting that the climaxes of CoS, GoF, and HBP are the only ones where Harry’s blood is actually spilled. In all the other books, Harry gets into all kinds of magical trouble (Dementors, Killing Curses, etc.) but does not actually get bloodied up.
- A blood-stained pack of cards — reflects Trelawney’s cards, which earlier in the book foretold the events of the climax: “the lightning-struck tower. Calamity. Disaster” (HBP 543). Blood-stained cards to indicate cards foretelling a death… metaphors don’t come more perfect than that!
- A staring glass eye — reflects Dumbledore seeing things when he drinks the potion in the cave (HBP 572)
- Evil-looking masks — This may be a repeat of Goblet of Fire and just indicate the Death Eaters attacking Hogwarts. However, I’m inclined to believe that this is actually meant to correspond to Snape: He wears a mask so he can look evil, resulting in him killing Dumbledore. In hindsight, this was a clue about Snape’s allegiance: He only looked evil!
- An assortment of human bones — reflects the Inferi, Voldemort’s personal collection of human bones
- Rusty spiked instruments hung from the ceiling — reflects the “thick coppery green chain” Dumbledore uses to bring up the boat in the cave (HBP 563)
- The Vanishing Cabinet — One might say that the Vanishing Cabinet reflects itself, but that’s not how metaphors work, so let’s dig a little deeper! I believe this is reflective of the wall in the cave, which “simply vanished” when supplied with blood (HBP 560).
So there you have it: The items Harry sees in Borgin and Burkes don’t just show up again as themselves. They show up in different forms in each climax of the relevant books. (Kind of makes you wonder if there’s a similar rubric for the odd-numbered books, doesn’t it? Watch this space…) In summary:
|Withered hand||Harry’s arm||Pettigrew’s hand||Harry’s hand|
|Blood-stained cards||Riddle’s diary||Harry’s blood||Trelawney’s cards|
|Staring glass eye||Basilisk||Imposter Mad-Eye Moody||Dumbledore’s visions|
|Evil-looking masks||Tom Riddle||Death Eaters||Severus Snape|
|Collection of human bones||Ginny Weasley||bone of the father||Inferi|
|Rusty spiked instruments hung from ceiling||Sword of Gryffindor||wands causing Priori Incantatem||chain that summons boat|
|Vanishing Cabinet||pipes leading to Chamber||Portkey||vanishing cavern wall|
This is one of those instances where I believe something lines up far too well to be coincidental. The items Harry sees in Borgin and Burkes become a motif through the books in a very specific pattern, as only Jo does.
What do you think? Can you think of a different interpretation for some of the items? Or do you want to try your hand at extending this to the odd-numbered books? Let me know in the comments, and soon I’ll have a second essay up about further extrapolations from the items at Borgin and Burkes.
¹What, you mean other people don’t spend their free time trolling through old HP essays? How else to occupy one’s time?