[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.
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.
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.