The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black
Chapter 6 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black
Harry, Hermione and the Weasleys spend the next morning ridding the parlour of Doxies. When Harry catches Fred pocketing a paralyzed Doxy, he explains that he and George can experiment with its venom for new joke products (Skiving Snackboxes). Mundungus Fletcher arrives with a load of stolen cauldrons to store at the house, sending Mrs. Weasley into a rage. While she furiously prepares lunch in the kitchen below, a wizened House-elf wanders into the parlour, muttering obscenities about "mudbloods," evidently meaning Hermione. The elf, Kreacher, apparently devoted to Mrs. Black, has been taking orders from her portrait for the past ten years. Hermione's attempts to be kind to him are thwarted by the Twins and Sirius, who has just entered the room.
Harry notices an old tapestry that Sirius describes as the "Noble and Most Ancient House of Black" family tree. Mrs. Black has blasted off various members for "sins" against the family—namely, associating with, marrying, or sympathizing with Half-bloods and Muggles. Sirius points out that pure-blood Wizarding families like the Blacks are almost all interrelated. Notable Black family connections include the Malfoys, the Lestranges, the Weasleys, the Prewetts, the Tonks, and former Hogwarts Headmaster Phineas Nigellus. In addition, his brother, Regulus, was once a Death Eater. According to Sirius, "He got in so far, then panicked about what he was being asked to do and tried to back out." This led to his death.
The next few days are filled with cleaning tasks, often interrupted by Kreacher's rescuing discarded family heirlooms and Dark objects, and with visits from Order members. Finally, Mrs. Weasley reminds Harry that his Ministry of Magic hearing is the next day. Mr. Weasley will escort him, as requested by Professor Dumbledore when he visited Grimmauld Place the night before. Harry, already worried about the hearing, is vexed that Dumbledore had visited without stopping to talk to Harry, on top of having apparently avoided him all summer.
Despite Voldemort, the upcoming hearing, Sirius' increasing depression, and Harry's frustration, Grimmauld Place offers rare snippets of domestic bliss that Harry and his godfather enjoy with the Weasleys. Neither Sirius nor Harry has ever experienced a happy family life, and Harry relishes these brief interludes. Harry and Sirius actually share much in common, growing up isolated and miserable in loveless households: Grimmauld Place and Privet Drive. And while Harry only has to endure his unhappy home for the summer, Sirius is now trapped inside a house containing many unpleasant (and, in some cases, magically permanent) reminders of his difficult youth—among them, his mad mother's screaming portrait, a sullen House-elf, and the family-tree tapestry bearing scorch marks where he and his other "blood traitor" relatives were blasted away by Mrs. Black. But a house can only reflect the people living in it, and Harry and Sirius have taken the first steps in creating their own happy family there. The pleasant time they share together will be short-lived, however. Classes at Hogwarts will start soon, and Sirius and Harry must then part company; for the time being, Sirius must endure being even more lonely and miserable, which possibly will affect his mental stability.
Harry also learns more about Sirius' ancestry and how interrelated wizard families are. It is quite possible that Harry and Sirius are distant blood relatives as well as godfather and godson. Harry may even be related to the Weasleys. It is also revealed that Tonks is related to Sirius; her mother, Andromeda, is Sirius' cousin, and sister to both Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange. While this means that Tonks is cousins with Draco, neither seems to acknowledge this relationship.
Some readers have thought, and Mundungus Fletcher in the story has seemed to suggest, that Sirius is being hasty in discarding so many family heirlooms. While Kreacher seems to be attempting to reclaim and hide much of the Black valuables, that seems to be out of a perhaps misplaced loyalty to the Black family matriarch, or her insane portrait alter ego. Fletcher, on the other hand, notes a silver goblet with the Black crest on it, commenting "that would come off", apparently assessing it for grey-market resale value. Some readers have suggested that the more valuable proceeds of the house could be sold to fund Sirius' continuing expenses. Against this one must weigh the fact that Sirius, as revealed in the closing chapter of the third book, was able to buy Harry a very expensive racing broom while on the run. From this, we can deduce two things: one, the author has made Sirius, as sole heir to the Black family fortune, quite rich; and two, the Gringotts goblins care little, if any, for the legal affairs of wizards. Relative to this, the potential return from sale of the heirlooms must be quite trivial, particularly weighed against the joy of making a clean break with his family's Dark past and the potential risk of Sirius' discovery should a large number of Black family artifacts suddenly appear on the market.
Hermione looking out the drawing room window and down at the front steps may be somewhat confusing for US readers. The house at Grimmauld Place is built to the London pattern, very much vertical, and apparently has four stories above the ground floor. The drawing room or parlour is apparently located one floor above ground level, on what U.S. readers would call the second floor, and European readers call the first floor. More information is available here.
- Why does Kreacher continually retrieve discarded items?
- What was Sirius' relationship with his family?
- Why doesn't Sirius directly answer Harry when he asks if he can live at Grimmauld Place if he is expelled?
- Why would Dumbledore ignore Harry while he was at 12 Grimmauld Place?
- What exactly is Kreacher's relationship with the Black family?
- With Kreacher's name, Rowling is obviously playing with words here; she is directing us to infer a certain connotation in Kreacher's name. What might this be? Is there only one?
This chapter marks the first time Sirius' brother, Regulus, is mentioned. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, a note is found that is signed only with the initials R.A.B. This R.A.B. is Regulus Arcturus Black, as confirmed by Kreacher in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Also, amongst the miscellaneous stuff being tossed out is "a heavy locket that none of them could open". We discover later that a locket, which can be traced back to Salazar Slytherin, plays a major part in the story. Dumbledore believes that Voldemort had hidden a Horcrux in a cavern by the sea, where he had first consciously exerted his power over Muggles. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, he and Harry journey to the cave to retrieve it, only to discover the Horcrux had been replaced with a fake locket and the above-mentioned note. The replacement being a locket, and Dumbledore's belief that Voldemort had preferentially been seeking relics of the Founders to store his Horcruxes, leads Harry to believe that the missing Horcrux is within a locket owned by Slytherin. Ironically, this locket had been at Headquarters all this time. As a Slytherin relic, Kreacher would likely have squirreled it away for safe-keeping, along with other discarded Black family heirlooms and photos, including those of Bellatrix Lestrange. Kreacher and Mundungus Fletcher explain the locket's history in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and we will see its eventual destruction in that book as well.
It is actually this locket that caused Regulus' death. It is true that Regulus, as we will find out in the final book, had rebelled against Voldemort, but much more effectively than Sirius supposes. Voldemort had borrowed Kreacher to assist him in placing the Horcrux in the cave. Kreacher had reported back to Regulus, and Regulus had then tried to retrieve the Horcrux, instructing Kreacher to destroy it. Regulus then fell to the traps surrounding that Horcrux, but Kreacher, as mentioned above, escaped with the locket.
Dumbledore will continue to avoid Harry throughout this book. We will only find out why in the final chapters of this book: that this was a conscious policy adopted by Dumbledore to try to protect himself and Harry. At this point, Dumbledore suspects some mental connection between Harry and Voldemort, and is aware that Voldemort, believing love a weakness, would try to use any perceived affection between Harry and Dumbledore as a weapon against one or both of them. By isolating himself, Dumbledore hopes to prevent any knowledge of his feelings for Harry, or Harry's for him, from reaching Voldemort. This will, to a certain extent, backfire, as Harry, retaliating for what he perceives as a slight, will at several points in this book fail to forward information about Voldemort that Dumbledore could have used.
- This is the first we hear of living Black relatives, notably Andromeda, Narcissa, and Bellatrix. When Sirius dies, it will develop that he has left his house to Harry; there is some concern, however, that it may be entailed, so that it would stay in the Black family. This will be a minor plot point in the sixth book. Additionally, Harry will be briefly alarmed in the final book by a strong facial resemblance between Bellatrix and Andromeda.
- We see, in passing, a "heavy metal locket that none of them could open." This will turn out to be a Horcrux; in fact, it will be the Horcrux that Regulus Black had retrieved from the sea cave. Kreacher has brought it back to Grimmauld Place at Regulus' orders, and will be distraught that he was unable to complete his master's final instructions, to destroy it. This will prove a major plot point once it is discovered in the final book, and will also be a lynch-pin on which Harry is able to win Kreacher's loyalty. Hermione will recover the locket, and Ron will destroy it, in the final book.