Bathilda's Secret

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Chapter 17 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Bathilda's Secret← Chapter 16 | Chapter 18 →

Synopsis[edit]

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

As they depart the cemetery, Hermione is positive she saw something move in the distance. Harry thinks it may be a ghost, but Hermione draws her wand. Seeing dislodged snow by the bushes where Hermione was pointing, Harry surmises that if it was Death Eaters, they would be dead now. They put on the Invisibility Cloak, glancing around as they leave. Heading down a street, they have no idea where Bathilda Bagshot’s house might be. They come upon an overgrown hedge surrounding a ruined cottage, most of which is still standing, but one side has been blown apart. On the gate, a sign appears:

On this spot, on the night of 31 October 1981, Lily and James Potter lost their lives. Their son, Harry, remains the only wizard ever to have survived the Killing Curse. This house, invisible to Muggles, has been left in its ruined state as a monument to the Potters and as a reminder of the violence that tore apart their family.

Messages from visitors are scribbled on the sign. Hermione thinks this is disrespectful, but it cheers Harry, who feels only gratitude. A mysterious, elderly woman approaches. Even though she is obviously a magical person, Harry is surprised and suspicious that she can see through the Invisibility Cloak. Harry asks if she is Bathilda Bagshot; she nods and leads them to a house with a garden as overgrown as the Potter residence. Inside, Harry whiffs a foul odor clinging to her, though it may be the house, which is covered by thick dust. Harry hears Bathilda calling, "Come!" from another room, causing Hermione to jump. Harry spots photographs atop a dresser and removes the dust. A half-dozen photos are missing from their ornate frames, but Harry recognizes a young blond man in one as the same person in Rita Skeeter’s book, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore. Despite Harry repeatedly asking who it is, Bathilda only vaguely stares at him, causing Harry to wonder how she was able to tell Rita Skeeter much about the Dumbledore clan. Harry tells Hermione that the man in the photo is the thief he saw in Voldemort's mind, who stole the item from Gregorovitch.

Bathilda motions for only Harry to go upstairs with her; as he follows her, Harry pockets the thief's photo. Harry asks if she has something for him. Bathilda's eyes close, and Harry feels his scar prickle and the Locket Horcrux twitch against his chest as the room momentarily darkens. Joy surges through his body, and he hears his own voice saying, "Hold him!" Harry inspects the dressing table that Bathilda points to, but turning, he witnesses a revolting sight: a huge snake pours from what was Bathilda's neck, her lifeless body collapsing to the floor. Nagini attacks, biting Harry's arm and sending his wand flying. The resulting noise brings Hermione frantically running upstairs. Releasing Harry, Nagini lunges at Hermione, barely missing her. Harry, grabbing his dropped wand, yells that Voldemort is coming. Nagini lunges again as Harry drags Hermione across the bed. Hermione casts Confringo, and the spell ricochets around the room, burning Harry's hand, as they leap out the window. Voldemort, grasping at Harry, screams in fury as he and Hermione Disapparate; his anger sears Harry's scar.

Pain mingles with Voldemort's memories of a cold, fateful night sixteen years before: Hallowe'en costumes, a father's smile, a toddler playing on the floor inside a cozy house. Outside, a gate creaks open as a dark figure strides through. A man yells, "Lily, take Harry and go! It's him. Go! Run! I'll hold him off!" More screams, then green flashes, and a woman's crumpled body lies upon the nursery floor. One final flash, and pain-shot darkness. Then, through Voldemort's eyes, Harry sees Bathilda's bedroom again as Voldemort retrieves the dropped photo of the thief.

Hermione's voice pierces the void, pleading for him to awake. Opening his eyes, Harry sees he is inside the tent. It is hours after their escape and Harry has been ill; Hermione used the Hover charm to get him into his bunk and a Severing charm to pry the stuck Locket from his chest. Dittany healed Nagini's bite wounds. While Harry relived Voldemort's memories, he was delirious, moaning and screaming. Harry relates how Nagini was hidden inside Bathilda's corpse, withholding the most gruesome details. Nagini only spoke to Harry when they were alone because it was in Parseltongue. Nagini immediately summoned Voldemort when Harry identified himself. Harry asks for his wand, but Hermione tearfully confesses that it is broken, probably by her ricocheting spell. Stunned, Harry asks that she try repairing it with her wand, but like Ron's fractured wand that never worked the same, Harry's wand is too badly damaged, and it snaps in half again when he tests it. With Ollivander held captive by Voldemort, Harry is unsure how he will obtain another wand. Though clearly upset, Harry tells Hermione she is not to blame, then borrows her wand to take the watch, wanting to be away from her. Hermione sits by the bunk quietly sobbing.

Analysis[edit]

Harry confronts death in Godric's Hollow, but rather than witnessing it hot and fresh as when Dumbledore, Cedric Diggory, and Sirius Black were killed, he now sees only its cold, decayed aftermath, dimming his hope to ever be reunited with his mother and father. Harry's own recollections of that tragic night are faint, limited to a green flash and his mother's screams. While inside Voldemort's memories, he was able to see the entire horrendous event as it unfolded through Voldemort's eyes. Not only does this reopen old wounds, it creates new ones that only intensify his grief and despair. But as painful as those memories are, they also provide him a clearer picture regarding what actually happened on that cold, long-ago night, tying him closer to his parents and clarifying his role in vanquishing the Dark Lord.

Visiting his parents' graves, and seeing the destroyed cottage in which he once lived, deeply disturbs Harry, driving home the reality that the tragic events sixteen years before were real. Until now, these were merely sad stories told to Harry, but seeing the graves and the house in person is emotionally wrenching, and it serves to fully integrate him into past events. And while Harry has always harbored a slim hope that magic would somehow reunite him with his dead parents, seeing their forlorn, final resting place forces him to confront death's finality and accept that the dead can only live on in this world through others' memories. Harry is comforted and uplifted, however, by the kind messages visitors have left at the Potter's residence over the years.

Harry's difficult childhood has resulted in his never fully trusting or relying on others, and he usually prefers to confront most situations alone. He has made great strides in overcoming this trait, however, learning to accept friends' and mentors' support and guidance, though some, like Ron and Dumbledore, have also failed him. He takes a great leap of faith here when he willingly follows the mysterious elderly woman, believing she is Bathilda Bagshot and trusting that she can help. This time Harry's reasoning proves faulty. Even the decision to go to Godric's Hollow was driven more by a desire to see his birthplace, visit James and Lily's graves, and resolve his conflicted feelings about Dumbledore, rather than to uncover clues relating to their mission; the error nearly costs Harry and Hermione their lives. It is uncertain if Harry can ever show that much faith in the unknown again. It is also a little surprising that Hermione, who is usually far more cautious and suspicious than either Ron or Harry, not only suggested going to Godric's Hollow, but agreed to follow the old woman, despite her odd behavior. Hermione did express discomfort with the situation more than once, and so the most likely reason for her behavior is that she did not want to argue with Harry and upset him so soon after his emotional encounter with his parents' graves.

Readers can again see to what extremes the despicable Rita Skeeter will go to obtain information. She likely used some magical means, probably a memory charm or Veritaserum, to extract the vulnerable Bathilda's faulty memories, then stole the photographs for her book. Skeeter may also be indirectly responsible for poor Bathilda's death, as Voldemort apparently surmised that Skeeter's book could lure Harry to Godric's Hollow and Bathilda to seek information, prompting Voldemort to murder her and set the trap that nearly ensnared Harry and probably would have killed Hermione. The elderly and frail Bathilda may also have succumbed to natural causes or died of shock when Voldemort appeared at her home, allowing Voldemort to simply take advantage of the situation. However, Skeeter's book is likely what drew his attention to Godric's Hollow.

Though Harry assures Hermione she is blameless for breaking his wand, he is clearly upset, leaving Hermione in tears and driving an invisible wedge between them. As with Lupin earlier, Harry's immediate reaction is undeservedly harsh, especially considering Hermione risked her own life to save his. However, Harry, believing that his wand is his only hope against Voldemort, is devastated by its loss, and his logical thinking (and gratitude) has been temporarily displaced by anger and grief, though he quickly realizes Hermione was blameless. The wand's loss is a blow to the mission, but Harry may be more affected by losing a treasured object rather than a valuable weapon.

It is perhaps worth noting here that the conversation about Harry's broken wand is the first time either Harry or Hermione has spoken Ron's name since his departure; it may prove important.

It should also be mentioned that when Harry hears or speaks Parseltongue, he is unable to distinguish it from English. We first saw this when the boa constrictor at the zoo spoke to him in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and explicitly as far back as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, where Harry had to imagine he was seeing a living snake before the words he spoke to the Chamber's entrance would emerge in Parseltongue. This explains why Harry was unaware anything was amiss when Nagini, disguised as Bathilda, called from the other room, while Hermione was suddenly startled. Harry heard "Bathilda" saying, "Come", while all Hermione detected was a strange hissing noise.

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Review[edit]

  1. How and why do Harry and Hermione react differently to the written messages left outside the Potters' house?
  2. What happened to the missing photographs in Bathilda's house? What were they likely pictures of?
  3. Why was Hermione startled when Bathilda called from the other room?

Further Study[edit]

  1. How could "Bathilda" have recognized Harry and Hermione in their Polyjuice disguises and while they were under the Invisibility Cloak?
  2. Why did Harry and Hermione decide to follow the old woman, not knowing who she was, and despite her not speaking to them?
  3. Harry has been confronted by death before, but how is he affected differently by it after seeing his parents' and the Dumbledores' graves?
  4. Does Harry really blame Hermione for breaking his wand? If so, why? Is he justified feeling the way he does?
  5. Could Hermione have avoided breaking Harry's wand? Explain why or why not.
  6. Harry's wand had become very powerful and easily destroyed Lucius Malfoy's wand without Harry casting a curse. Why, then, was Hermione's spell able to break it?
  7. Why did no one ever check on the elderly and senile Bathilda, a well-known witch, despite her living alone and the garden being overgrown?
  8. When Voldemort arrived at the Potters' cottage, why did James confront him rather than Disapparate to safety with Lily and baby Harry?
  9. Why didn't Lily escape with Harry as soon as James shouted out that Voldemort was outside?

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

Although Harry seriously erred in trusting the "old woman" he believed was Bathilda Bagshot, he will again put his trust in a stranger when one night soon a silvery doe Patronus appears, and he follows it in the hope an ally sent it to help. This time his assumption will be correct, and he will also be reunited with a valued friend.

In a later chapter, Dumbledore's shade will explain that even though Harry's wand had grown very powerful because it imbibed additional power from Voldemort's yew wand (brother to Harry's wand), that power can only be directed against Voldemort, regardless of what wand the Dark Lord may be wielding at the time. Against other wizards, Harry's wand had no greater advantage than before. That is why Hermione was able to accidentally destroy Harry's wand with her own.