The Riddle House
Chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The Riddle House
The story opens in the small village of Little Hangleton at "The Riddle House." Many villagers still call it that, even though many years have passed since the Riddle family actually lived there. Atop a hill overlooking the village, the former manor is the largest building in the area.
The house has a bad reputation. Half a century ago, the Riddle family, including the son, then about thirty years old, and his parents, were found dead in the living room. Frank Bryce, the Riddles' gardener, was arrested on suspicion of homicide but was released when it was determined the victims were not murdered; they simply died, apparently of fear. But the villagers remain suspicious that Frank was responsible.
Bryce now lives alone on the Riddle property, caring for the house and grounds for its absent owners as best he can despite his advancing age. Late one night, Bryce investigates a light in one of the house's windows. Inside, he overhears Lord Voldemort and Wormtail (Peter Pettigrew) planning to take action after the Quidditch World Cup, though Bryce has no idea what that is. Lord Voldemort apparently distrusts Wormtail to act alone, and talks about his "faithful servant". It appears they have already killed someone named Bertha Jorkins.
Bryce is discovered by Nagini, Voldemort's giant pet snake, and Wormtail forces him into the room. Bryce threatens them with the police; Voldemort, calling him a Muggle, completely disdains Bryce's threat and slays him with a Killing curse.
Two hundred miles away, Harry Potter suddenly awakens with a sharp pain in his scar.
This marks the second time in the series that a book has opened somewhere other than with Harry Potter at the Dursleys. The first was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Readers are also witness to a murder first-hand, whereas before, murdered victims were mentioned after-the-fact. Arguably, Harry is viewing the events in a dream, although given the detail he sees and his strong reaction to it, it is likely much more than that. Harry's recollection seems to be as a detached third party, as he later recalls seeing Frank fall and the armchair swivel from Frank's viewpoint.
This chapter is somewhat confusing initially. We are not given any cues to indicate that the death of the Riddle family, announced to the town by a screaming maidservant, is occurring 50 years before the main story. We only recognize the time-frame of the initial events when the story shifts to Frank Bryce's current point-of-view.
It should be mentioned that Voldemort, discussing his "faithful servant," is clearly referring to someone other than Wormtail. This third person's identity is left unclear, and it leaves Wormtail quite frightened, as it implies that Voldemort does not entirely trust Wormtail, and he is therefore subject to punishment and perhaps death. This again illuminates Voldemort's character: he rules his associates through fear, intimidation, and pain, rather than commanding their respect or fidelity.
Voldemort's snake, Nagini, makes its first appearance. Wormtail is apparently milking Nagini for some substance, possibly venom, to keep Lord Voldemort alive. Milking venomous snakes is not unique to the Wizarding world; it is by this technique that we are able to produce antivenom. The fact that Voldemort uses this process himself is perhaps unusual, but considerably less dangerous for Voldemort and Wormtail than it is for Muggle harvesters, because of the control Voldemort has over the snake.
As noted, we actually see Frank Bryce being murdered here, apparently by something speaking with Voldemort's voice, though we don't see what it is. If this is truly Voldemort, and not just a nightmare for Harry, then even in his disembodied state, Voldemort's power is already strong and likely growing.
- Why does the Riddle manor have a "creepy" reputation? Why has no one lived in it for so many years?
- Why was Frank Bryce accused and later exonerated of the Riddle family's murders? What could have killed them?
- Why was Bertha Jorkins recently killed?
- Can anyone else talk to snakes like Voldemort does with Nagini? How is that possible?
- Who might the "rich" owner of the Riddle house be? Is Voldemort concerned about the house's ownership? Why or why not?
- Why does Harry awaken in pain, 200 miles away, just as Frank Bryce is murdered?
- Who might the "faithful servant" that is mentioned be? Give supporting reasons.
- How and why does Nagini seem to act differently than other snakes?
Later in this book, and also in a subsequent one, Harry will have "dreams" that appear to reflect actual events occurring as Voldemort is seeing them; internal evidence in the book suggests that events in this chapter may well be such a "dream". Professor Dumbledore, as we have seen, has already connected Harry's scar paining him with the residual effects from Voldemort's curse when he tried to kill baby Harry. On hearing about this dream, Dumbledore further suspects that the murder attempt may have sheared off a portion of Voldemort's soul, transferring it to Harry, thus unintentionally making Harry one of Voldemort's Horcruxes. Much later, Dumbledore informs Harry that he believes this may constitute a true link between their minds. Voldemort initially seems unaware that this connection exists, but he later becomes aware of it, and exploits it in an attempt to entrap Harry; this happens throughout the fifth book.
Nagini seems more biddable and intelligent than a snake ought to be. Finding a Muggle standing in the hall, as Nagini does, a normal snake would attack, hide, or otherwise react; instead, Nagini slithers past unconcernedly and promptly reports Frank Bryce's presence to her master. And though readers saw Harry talking to the boa constrictor at the zoo in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Voldemort's connection to Nagini seems deeper and darker than this. Nagini, we discover later, is also a Horcrux, and perhaps some human-like intelligence was passed to the snake when Voldemort moved his soul shard to her.
The viewpoints mentioned in this chapter also do not tally completely with what we believe now, and what is discovered later, that Harry is likely to be able to see. This chapter's vital events are seen from Frank Bryce's viewpoint, but Harry, we believe at this point, is actually sharing Voldemort's mind, and so may be able to perceive things either from Voldemort's or Nagini's point of view. (That Nagini may be a Horcrux, also sharing a fragment of Voldemort's soul, is not suggested until Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, though the evidence for this is revealed a year earlier, at Christmas in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.) Examining Harry's thoughts about this dream, and combining this with what we know about the communication channel between Harry and Voldemort as revealed in later books, would indicate that Harry is largely experiencing the events through Nagini's eyes. Because of this, and because Harry will only have started experiencing this dream when Bryce was discovered and Voldemort became angry, we must assume that all Harry knows of what preceded Bryce's discovery comes from Bryce's comments to Voldemort.
While the "faithful servant" Voldemort mentions is never explicitly identified, we are meant to suspect Professor Snape, given Harry's relationship with him. However, by closely inspecting Wormtail's and Snape's careers, we can see that each reacted similarly at Voldemort's downfall: Wormtail went into hiding, while Snape continued working for Dumbledore, using Dumbledore's snow-white reputation as a shield. Neither, during Voldemort's absence, professed loyalty to his ideals; each, in his own way, repudiated Voldemort's scheme for Wizardkind. In fact, as Snape seemed to have been hindering Voldemort's attempts to regain the Philosopher's Stone in the first book of the series, it is likely that Voldemort believes Snape has turned against him, an assumption which may be echoed in a later chapter of this book. Even given what we know now, if we consider things from Voldemort's viewpoint, it would seem Snape is no more trustworthy than Pettigrew. This lack of trustworthiness in Voldemort's eyes is not (apparently) repudiated in detail until the sixth book. We only learn the truth of Snape's loyalty in the final book.
While it is never explicitly stated who Voldemort's faithful servant is, it is likely that Voldemort is referring to Barty Crouch Jr., whose existence he had discovered by questioning Bertha Jorkins. The "one more curse" that Voldemort refers to is likely the Imperius curse which Wormtail will cast on Bartemius Crouch. Other curses will be necessary, of course, but the curse that disables Mad-Eye Moody does not have to be cast by Voldemort or Pettigrew; instead, it, and any other curses required, may be cast by Barty Crouch Jr. once he is restored to Voldemort's service.
- While we have been made aware of a link between Harry and Voldemort that manifests as pain in Harry's scar, this is the first time that we have been allowed to see that actual impressions and events can be transferred via that channel. We will see this again in this book, and Voldemort, learning of this channel, will use it to set a trap for Harry in the next book. Harry will reverse the channel, receiving useful information from Voldemort, in the final book.
- Harry will also visit Little Hangleton and the environs of the Riddle House again, later in this book, when captured by Voldemort; and again via the memories of Bob Ogden, two years from now. We will also learn that Voldemort had concealed a Horcrux in Little Hangleton; Harry will perceive Voldemort's rage at finding that hiding place empty, and knows that Dumbledore had retrieved that Horcrux from there.