Chapter 26: Gringotts

[co-written with revgeorge]

Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed,
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.

–SS, pp. 72-73

Harry has not forgotten the poem on Gringotts’ front doors, nor has he forgotten the day he entered the bank for the first time: his eleventh birthday, the best birthday of his life. Gringotts was broken into that day as well, the thief both unsuccessful and uncaught. While Harry knows that robbing the bank is one of the most dangerous things he has yet attempted with Ron and Hermione, he does not seek to steal out of greed, and the treasure that was never his was also never truly Voldemort’s or the Lestranges’. Who knows but whether this gives him a magical edge?

This is an action chapter, coming straight out of a place of respite, and the trio will face more trouble than mere dragons and curses and angry goblins.

Dehumanization

Doesn’t it take a wand to get into Diagon Alley? However that may be, a number of wandless witches and wizards line the streets. One of them accosts Hermione, who is not prone to losing her head–but sane, compassionate, righteous Hermione isn’t used to playing her nature’s opposite either. Bellatrix would have coldly forced the man aside, perhaps Stunning or otherwise cursing him; Hermione hesitates, stammering, and the man attacks. A quick defensive move from Ron puts him on the ground, and just then Travers walks up.

“How did it offend you?” Travers has no qualms about disrespecting human dignity. His look of distaste at Ron disguised as a Romanian wizard shows that the Death Eaters are not just prejudiced towards non-pure bloods but other ethnicities as well.

Hermione scrapes her act together and manages to portray a reasonably arrogant Bellatrix for a little while, until her identity is questioned inside the bank, at which point Harry has a problem.

Back in Order of the Phoenix, Harry shouted a Cruciatus curse or two at the real Bellatrix, but he has never yet successfully used an Unforgiveable. Faced with the likelihood of capture and failure, he casts an Imperius on Bogrod and then on Travers. Taking away the mental freedom of another sentient being is a serious crime against their humanity; there’s a reason this is considered worth a life sentence in Azkaban.

Of course, Harry hasn’t much in the way of options and no time to think about it, and when Griphook whispers the suggestion in his ear, he acts. Bogrod obeys, as does Travers. Still, the question of the moral and ethical implications of his actions remain. Good guys use bad methods to achieve good ends. Are they right or wrong to do so? There is, of course, the fact that war is messy and sometimes there are no good answers or actions but only necessary ones.

Goblin Problems

The goblins continue to come off not looking good. Griphook’s act could be seen as a betrayal–or is it? He agreed to help Harry get the cup and then the sword would be his; he just perhaps took it a little quickly. Harry simply recognizes that Griphook had never expected faithfulness from him, and he lets him go.

The two races have different standards of right and wrong regarding the handling of treasure, a tense truce regarding inheritance. Griphook takes the sword, which he will possess for less than 24 hours (if memory serves me accurately) before Neville Longbottom pulls it out of the Sorting Hat. Griphook, most likely, will continue to believe all his life that the sword was stolen from him again by Godric Gryffindor’s magic. The wizards will continue to believe that the sword belonged to Gryffindor and can be rightfully (though temporarily) inherited by any Gryffindor student in a time of need. Who is right? Who has the right to say?

A related question involves the goblins’ treatment of the dragon. Is it possible to judge an alien culture by our standards of how animals should be treated? Humans have of course failed any standards of decent treatment for animals, and continue to. Still, the dragon was cruelly handled. As Tolkien said through Gandalf, good and evil are not one thing among men and another thing among elves and dwarves.

In the end, Harry, Ron and Hermione make a dramatic escape on dragonback, all of them badly burned. Helga Hufflepuff’s cup, last rightly owned by the deluded old woman besotted by Riddle, is safe in Harry’s hands. Gringotts has, for once, been successfully robbed.

16 thoughts on “Chapter 26: Gringotts

  1. Great post, Jenna and George ! Your discussion of dehumanization relating to this chapter was great! I thought more this time around about Harry using the imperius curse. It reminds me of a talk on ethics and Harry Potter that I went to at Azkatraz. Harry’s use of the Unforgivable Curses, particularly the Cruciatus Curse, made a lot of people dislike him. In this instance at Gringotts, I can see Harry’s actions as not good, but necessary.
    I also really didn’t like the way the dragon was treated, I thought of how horrified Hagrid would be to see it treated like that, and have to agree. I tend to think that cruelty is cruelty, no matter the culture or whether its being done to human or animal.

  2. Looking back at the first line of the chapter – makes me laugh out loud. Reminds me of the Scottish poem by Robert Burns – The best laid schemes of mice and men Go often askew. Harry goes out to retrieve a cup and leaves the majestic house of Gringotts in abject ruins. The image of the Dragon staggering out the great doors of the old fortress, swinging askew, breathing heavy from it’s escape – breathing in fresh air for the first time in ages before it’s cleared for take off, is an image I am looking forward to in the films.

    This chapter seems to be about desperation. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Who cares if the imperious was used. Not I. A starving man (no matter how honest) will steal bread. Sins committed in the act of self-preservation are not sins at all.

    Another note: Once again – Hermione kicks ass. She might have hesitated at the beginning – but she’s the one who blows apart the mighty Gringotts for the Dragon’s path. Oh, I love her.

  3. I totally agree, Joivre. There’s a certain poetic justice to the trio breaking out of Gringotts with that Dragon, who has been imprisoned by the goblins for all its life. Through all the books, there’s a certain verve that comes about when the trio is flying by the seat of their pants, without a clear cut plan, and this is no different. I agree about desperate times calling for desperate acts. Would I have stood in judgment of Jean Valjean for stealing bread or silver? No way! Likewise, the use of the imperious curse by the trio, while providing fodder for discussion about ethics after the fact, does not bother me. It’s not like they got hooked on using the curse and justifying its use to themselves either. Harry and Ron have, like Harry’s marauding dad and pals before him, spent a lot of time at Hogwarts “showing a certain disregard for the rules.” This is one of those times, only Hermione is in agreement with them on the rule breaking this time. Next to Harry, she is my favorite character in the HP books, and I also love the way she “kicks ass” here! My heroine!

  4. Joivre said, “Sins committed in the act of self-preservation are not sins at all.”

    Actually, I would disagree. They are still sins. They may be more understandable, they may be more forgivable, but they are still sins.

    And the desire for self-preservation may actually lead to some pretty horrific justifications of one’s actions.

  5. This is one of my favorite chapters in the book. It finally ends all the speculation of what was happening in the cover art of the UK edition. The artist, Jason Cockcroft, does an amazing job of incorporating quite a bit of detail if you look at the artwork closely.

    Great comment on how Travers has disdain for foreign wizards. Never picked up on that even after having read this chapter 6-7 times. That’s what’s so great about these read-throughs!

  6. I agree that the Imperius Curse is a horrible thing. But it pales in comparison to what Harry must do in the end (or what he thinks he has to do in the end, not yet knowing that Voldemort would once again be victim of his own killing curse). Murder is the ultimate sin for a lot of people and Harry didn’t like Dumbledore telling him he would have to kill Voldemort or die himself. Who wouldn’t have committed murder given the occasion to kill Voldemort or Hitler, to take an example of the real world? It was the choice between two evils for Harry, he just had to do it. I also showed us again that our hero is no saint, which is what makes him interesting to me and why I love him so much.

  7. Revgeorge may think they are sins – but since the 5th century my Church has recognized acts of self-preservation in a just war as acts that are not sins. St. Augustine set the criterion.

    Jus Ad Bellum
    1.the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
    2.all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
    3.there must be serious prospects of success;
    4.the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

    But yes I agree partly with Revgeorge that acts committed without an Jus Ad Bellum criterion can be bad news for someone’s immortal life. However – I still do not believe stealing a loaf of bread when you are starving is a sin. No matter which way you go about it. Not a big sin – not a little sin. In fact – it’s a sin to deny a starving man a loaf of bread because he doesn’t have enough money.

  8. Agreed, Revgeorge. Besides, it’s hard to disagree with someone who has sexy Yul Brynner as their avatar. He’s the only man in the world who could make me feel sorry for Rameses.

  9. Joivre, you’ve obviously never seen the animated movie Prince of Egypt with the voices of Val Kilmer and Ralph Fiennes. Kilmer did Moses, while Feinnes did a fine, anguished Rameses (although with that casting they could have gone the other way and it still would have worked)

    I love the idea of Jus ad Bellum. Nations could set up a council whose job it would be to run the circumstances of each proposed act of war past the conditions:

    Did they mess with us? Yep
    Will peace talks work? Tried that, didn’t work.
    Can we do it quickly? Shock and awe’en, you bet ya.
    Will things get better? Piece of cake.

    Presto, you’ve got yourself an Iraq.

    BTW, while looking up the name of the Moses movie, I saw that Fiennes was signed on for a movie version of John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. One of my favorite actors in one of my favorite stories. Only problem is, Gary Oldman is signed up to do Smiley. Which leaves the role of Bil Holden, self-pitying slime-bag traitor, to be played by Feinnes. Oh, well.

  10. Ha! True Red Rocker – admittedly the criterion worked better with WWII than Iraq, Vietnam, or Korea. I did see Prince of Egypt – in fact, I own a copy. Yes, Fiennes was fine. But nothing beats Yul’s naked chest and snake arm-band. Purrrrr. I hear he worked out like a madman so he wouldn’t be upstaged by Heston’s loin cloth. It worked.

    Back to the chapter – I guess a Goblin problem is in the eyes of the beholder – because I actually think it’s the wizards who come off looking bad when the wizards are blasting away at unarmed Goblins. Why are they unarmed? Because the wizards won’t “allow” them to carry wands. They probably also wouldn’t have to have a Dragon tethered to the underbelly of Gringotts if the Goblins could reasonably defend the institution against those who could carry arms. I mean think about it – the Goblins are basically defenseless and are trying to protect the entire fiscal system of the Wizards. It’s a stupid set-up. So actually – it’s the Wizard’s fault there is a Dragon chained up in Gringott’s basement.

  11. The wizards will continue to believe that the sword belonged to Gryffindor and can be rightfully (though temporarily) inherited by any Gryffindor student in a time of need. Who is right? Who has the right to say?

    I think the person with the right to say is JKR, or, more specifically, the narrative. When Neville pulls that sword out of the hat, it strikes me as vindication and validation of Gryffindor’s right to the sword. I realize in real life it could just mean Gryffindor is a sneak and a skilled thief who put up enchantments to make sure what he stole could not be unstolen, but nothing in the books suggest that, and again, Neville pulls that sucker out like a hero. Everything suggests Gryffindor was right and the goblins were wrong in this particular instance.

    And since I’m already leaning anti-goblin, Joivre, you said,

    I mean think about it – the Goblins are basically defenseless and are trying to protect the entire fiscal system of the Wizards.

    I disagree that Goblins are defenseless. Like Ron said, they aren’t exactly fluffy bunnies. While we learned practically nothing in History of Magic, we still know there have been plenty of goblin rebellions. They have fought for their rights, and they have them. More than the “near-human intelligence” recluse Centaurs, or the oppressed House-Elves, or the driven-out Giants, goblins are members of the wizard world. Second-class, perhaps, but a good sight better than most other magical creatures. And honestly, the fact that Goblins are in charge of the Wizard gold must mean that they do it better than Wizards could. Wizard prejudice being what it is, if a wizard-run bank opened it’s door boasting the same security and fidelity as Gringotts, I think many Wizards would switch banks in a heartbeat.

    Back to the chapter, a nit that sometimes bothers me is the time pacing for the Gringotts robbing day. Here’s the sequence of what happens:

    6:00am – The trio+1 wakes up to get ready to storm Gringotts. They plan to leave quickly. It amazes me that Hermione is already polyjuiced when she transfigures Ron. I’d assume she’d want to drink it at the last instant to get her full hour’s worth. Let’s say they’re gone by 6:15am at the very latest.

    6:30am? – They’ve Apparated to Leaky, met the wandless, met Travers, and are entering the bank.

    6:45am? – Harry has imperiused his way to the carts. Honestly, I expect by now they’re already past the dragon and in the vault, but I’ll take a little wiggle room on this.

    7:00am? – They’ve grabbed the cup and badly burned they’re struggling on to a dragon. Actually, I bet he’s already exiting the bank.

    7:15am at the latest – The dragon takes flight.

    Time passes while the dragon flies. The dragon finally lands beside a lake and darkness is falling. We are in April/May in England, which means sunset should be around 8:00pm or a little later. Did the dragon fly for 12 hours or more? The book does not give that impression. From the book I’d guess more like 1 or 2 hours.

    After sunset – They Apparate to Hogsmeade. No wonder Ron is hungry.

    It’s possible that the dragon was meant to fly that long, but that’s really the only place I can see adding the time necessary to make everything fit. Otherwise, it’s a really quick day.

    Anyway, not a major nit, but something that sometimes gets me when I’m reading through this portion of the book.

  12. Ah, Derek D, elastic time, a staple of fantasy…. 😉 (And isn’t there almost nothing said about the Trio’s bad burns in subsequent chapters?)

    Really excellent writeup, Jenna and RevGeorge. As always, you get to the heart of things in this chapter.

    “Doesn’t it take a wand to get into Diagon Alley? However that may be, a number of wandless witches and wizards line the streets.” I’m guessing the wandless were denizens of Diagon Alley, those who had worked and lived there.

    “Good guys use bad methods to achieve good ends. Are they right or wrong to do so? There is, of course, the fact that war is messy and sometimes there are no good answers or actions but only necessary ones.” I’m with RevGeorge and you here. War is evil and often one must do a lesser evil, in a righteous cause, to defeat a greater evil, but that doesn’t make the lesser evil not an evil. It just makes it repugnantly and regretfully necessary, as you say. At this point, it had to be done.

    As far as Goblin-made treasure, we’re treated to a he said/he said argument, with no way of knowing or proving who was right. The mutual mistrust over generations was never going to have a handshake moment more than this.

  13. Arabella – I, too, have a hard time wrapping my head around the “multiple replicas/burning objects” concept, which should have severely injured them by the way it is described. Burns are very nasty and are incredibly debilitating. The only way I could rationalize it was to recall that someone, somewhere made the observation that Wizards seem to be much more impervious to physical injuries than Muggles. There are multiple instances throughout the series whereby a Wizard (usually Harry) sustains a serious, if not normally fatal, injury only to be patched up rather easily by Madame Pomfrey or with a quick charm performed by another obliging Wizard.

    In the next chapter, the burns are dismissed with a little Dittany and that’s that. I suppose because we are getting to the core of the story (finally) that JKR has better things to direct our attention to than mere burns.

  14. Gringotts intrigues me. Run by Goblins, who distrust the Wizards and of whom the Wizards distrust. It’s really kind of weird. The wizards are placing objects the Goblins believe with all their hearts are theirs – but are forced to protect for the one’s they believe have no right to outright ownership of. It’s like if someone borrowed my TV set and wouldn’t give it back – and then I was supposed to guard it against theft from that someone who wouldn’t give it back. Why do the Wizards trust the Goblins with their most precious treasure? If they are so distrustful of the Goblins – why not have an elite guard of Wizards guard the deposit vaults? Do Wizards not trust themselves to guard it? Why do the Goblins allow themselves to be used like that? I wonder what Ms. Rowling is implying.

    I am officially raising the white flag on this Deathly Hallows read-through. It has completely lost momentum.

  15. Hey Joivre, if you hang in there for a little longer, I’ve got a piece coming up on the ultimate deconstruction of Albus D.

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