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The Importance of Borgin and Burkes
By Zarathustra


From the outset you would not believe that such a dirty, hole-in-the-wall junk shop would have such importance in the Harry Potter series, but it does. We know that it is essentially a wizarding junk shop that caters to the darker elements of wizarding society. It is where Tom Riddle, a.k.a. Lord Voldemort, worked right after being denied the Defense Against the Dark Arts position at Hogwarts the first time, and that he used the shop as a base to locate important items that were later turned into his Horcruxes. Other items keep showing up from the shop and are used later on in the series. I believe that there are further items of importance that reside there, but which have yet to be discovered.

We have seen the shop twice, in the second and sixth books. These books mirror each other in many ways, but this essay will concentrate on the Borgin and Burkes angle. As we know, after reading six books now, the savvy reader will concentrate on how J.K. Rowling uses language to repeat similar phrases and items that are important to the plotline. For instance: “large black cabinet” and “large black-and-gold cabinet” in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.1 She uses this to show the reader that things are related and cautions that we should pay attention to them; they will show up later with great importance to the plot.

In Chamber of Secrets, Harry first enters Borgin and Burkes and sees many wondrous items. He, in fact, notices six items immediately: a withered hand on a cushion, a blood stained pack of cards, a staring glass eye, evil-looking masks on the walls, a collection of human bones, and rusty spiked instruments hanging from the ceiling.2 Later, Draco and Lucius Malfoy enter the store and Draco takes interest in six items himself: the glass eye, human skulls, the Hand of Glory, the coil of hangman’s rope, the cursed opal necklace, and the cabinet inside which Harry is hiding with the door cracked open.3

We need to pay attention to what Draco finds interesting, as these items tend to show up again connected to him in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Let’s take a look at each of these items and its importance in the story.


The Glass Eye

While seemingly not important, the glass eye is noted twice in Chamber of Secrets. We later discover in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody has a special glass eye that can see through objects as well as the back of his head. Draco is caught by this eye and transfigured into a ferret as punishment for throwing a curse at Harry, although it missed, while his back is turned.4 He is subsequently told by Moody to tell his father, Lucius, that “Moody’s keeping a close eye on his son…” 5 I believe that the eye in Borgin and Burkes is similar to the one that belongs to Alastor Moody. Whether or not Moody ends up in the shop to purchase it as a replacement remains to be seen.


Skulls

Originally included in the display of human bones that Harry initially noted, the skulls are later the only bones further mentioned as being important. Draco takes notice of them in Chamber of Secrets and the trio sees them again in Half-Blood Prince as they surreptitiously watch Draco with Mr. Borgin, and Hermione checks on the price of one of them.6 While, again, these seem innocuous, they may presage Draco’s involvement with Voldemort and his use of the skull for the Morsmordre green mark and tattoo. Because they have been mentioned three times, they may also show up in the seventh book, though most likely in a minor scenario.


Hand of Glory

An item mentioned twice in Chamber of Secrets, the Hand of Glory is given especial significance as Borgin takes the time to explain its usage.7 Draco seems very interested in it but leaves the shop without it. Apparently he later goes back and purchases it because Ron mentions at the Burrow early in Half-Blood Prince that Draco had been showing it off at some point in the past.8 Note that Ron links the usage of the two descriptions that Rowling used in Chamber of Secrets: “shrivelled arm” and “Hand of Glory.” While Rowling originally used “withered hand,” the meaning is the same. Of course Draco uses the Hand of Glory to his advantage by using it during the confrontation in the Tower to lead the Death Eaters from the Room of Requirement through the Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder he tosses to confuse the DA members. An interesting bit of trivia – The Hand of Glory is made out of the pickled hand of hanged criminal.9 I would not attach too much significance to the coincidence of Dumbledore’s hand and the Hand of Glory, as the Headmaster is not a hanged criminal, even though, in the end, it appeared he “seemed to hang suspended beneath the shining skull.” 10


Necklace of Opals

This was only mentioned once in Chamber of Secrets but Rowling made sure we knew its provenance and the fact that it was cursed.11 We then see it again in Half-Blood Prince when Hermione enters the store and asks its price.12 The necklace is then used by Draco to attempt to curse the Headmaster, but the plan is thwarted and Katie Bell ends up nearly dying instead.13 Draco is clever with this one. I believe he is speaking the strict truth when he tells Snape outside of the Christmas party that he never bought the necklace. However, after he placed Madam Rosmerta under the Imperius Curse, I am sure Draco provided her with the instructions and the money to purchase the necklace and this, in essence, lets him state that he was not the purchaser.


Cabinet(s)

We now know that there is a pair of cabinets. Rowling gives us the clue straight off in Chamber of Secrets that the cabinets are linked and that they are vanishing cabinets. Harry sees a “large black cabinet” at the shop and hides in it, but does not close it all the way.14 Later, while waiting for Filch to fill out detention papers, Nearly Headless Nick gets Peeves to crash a “large black-and-gold cabinet” that Filch describes as being a very valuable vanishing cabinet, in a diversion to get Harry out of trouble.15 Once again Rowling used similar phrases to describe a similar object. We later see in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that the cabinet, after being trashed by Peeves, is no longer in prime working order when Fred and George shut Montague inside it and he vanishes for a time.16 After this, the cabinet is placed in the Room of Requirement’s junk division where Harry espies it when he is trying to find a place to hide his Potions book in Half-Blood Prince.17

The cabinet at Borgin and Burkes is mentioned a second time at the beginning of Half-Blood Prince as it blocks the view of the trio spying on Draco.18 We now know that it was the cabinet to which Draco was referring during the entire conversation. Draco later tells Dumbledore that he managed to link the two cabinets together after listening to Montague’s tales concerning what he heard while stuck in limbo; conversations in Borgin and Burkes. Draco is smart; he remembered the other cabinet at the shop and what it implied. He spent all year fixing the one at Hogwarts and used the pair of cabinets to bring the Death Eaters into the castle.19

Through these objects we have seen that at least one repeated mention is necessary for their importance in the story. We have also noted that Draco is linked to all of these objects, either in their use on him or by him. This leaves just one last object in the list that interested Draco back in Chamber of Secrets: the coil of hangman’s rope.


Hangman’s Rope and Hanging in General

Now, while this rope in particular is only mentioned once in Chamber of Secrets, Rowling has used the Hangman game three more times in the books and supplements, and a fourth time on her website to announce the title of the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Ron is connected either obliquely or deliberately with all three of the book mentions: he plays the game with Harry in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them where the word being guessed is “Acromantula” and Harry draws a large spider with the words “You die Weasley” beside it20; again with Harry during History of Magic class on a scrap piece of parchment in Order of the Phoenix21; and in Half-Blood Prince, his brothers Fred and George develop a working 3-D model of the game in which a figurine gets hanged if the word is not spelled correctly.22

There has been a lot of speculation recently connecting the Hangman game or gallows in general to the word hallows. At one point in the chat rooms someone suggested that the word hallows was an archaic form of gallows, or that it referenced the hole into which the condemned dropped. After extensive research into the linguistic background of the words gallows, hallows and hanged, I have found the only connection to be between gallows and hanged. Hallows has never been used in place of gallows, nor do they have any sort of linguistic or archaic connection – other than rhyming. Hallow or hallows is strictly a word that, when used as a noun, means only a sacred place or object. Gallows has never meant a sacred place or object in any of its permutations – it means only to suspend, most frequently by hanging.23

There is only one way to connect hanging to a sacred place: the word henge (as in Stonehenge, which was a sacred place to the Druids) is the archaic form of hang and was most likely used to describe the way the stones were placed in a post and lintel formation such as that seen in the most common gallows set-ups during that time period.

So, why use the Hangman game a fourth time to announce the title? Because I believe the hangman’s rope that is at Borgin and Burkes will come into play in the last book in a particularly nasty way. The more times Rowling mentions something, the greater its significance in the end. Next to the cabinets, this is the most mentioned type of object from Borgin and Burkes in the books, which tends to point to its upcoming importance in the last book, Deathly Hallows. Someone important to the furtherance of the story will find themselves hanged by it. Ron? Maybe, as he is connected to three out of the other four mentions. Draco? Possibly, but I think he is more likely to purchase it and use it on someone else. Anyone else? Well, there are numerous possibilities; even Harry is not immune in this speculation game. Will they survive the hanging? It is a distinct possibility.

Constantly in the books we see the representation of the tarot card The Hanged Man. This card is used to represent an overwhelming challenge or personal cross to bear, whereby The Fool is forced to let go of his preconceptions and see the world or his challenges with a new understanding. When he relinquishes the struggle for control everything falls into place. He sees with new eyes and his perspective may be turned upside down or reversed. It represents a paradigm shift in thought. It does not necessarily represent death, but more often a peaceful acceptance and inner harmony of the situation at hand.24 While we have yet to see the card itself being dealt by Trelawney, such as we saw with the Lightning Struck Tower card in Half Blood Prince, we see various interpretations of it during the course of the books.

For instance, we see Mrs. Robertson being turned upside-down during the Death Eater march at the World Cup in an embarrassing episode of showing her knickers,25 and we see James Potter use the same curse to turn Snape upside-down to show his grey underpants during the Pensieve episode.26 Harry then discovers the exact same curse the following year in Snape’s old Potions book and uses it twice on Ron.27 Again we see the Ron reference coupled with hanging. Harry finds himself upside-down after walking into the mist during the third task of the Triwizard Tournament.28 Even Mrs. Norris was hung upside-down by her tail and the spiders suspended Ron and Harry facedown as they carried the boys to Aragog’s lair.29 Here, again, is Ron coupled with hanging and spiders; this does not bode well for Mr. Weasley. Even Filch is in on the hanging upside-down bit with his collection of well-oiled chains and manacles in his office where it is “common knowledge that he was always begging Dumbledore to let him suspend students by their ankles from the ceiling.” 30

Hanging is a predominant theme throughout the books. Besides the above-mentioned upside-down instances, we see it used as the name of two towns: Greater and Little Hangleton (from where both sides of Tom Riddle’s family hail and where he goes when he returns to the United Kingdom prior to the Quidditch World Cup), and the name of a pub – The Hanged Man – in Little Hangleton.31 Tom Riddle hung Billy Stubbs’ rabbit from the rafters at the orphanage, and Dumbledore “seemed to hang suspended beneath the shining skull.” 32 I can’t even begin to count the number of times in the books that someone utters the phrase “hang on.”

Many of the instances of hanging in the books are of being hung upside-down. Several others are not, but I feel that it presages a significant hanging that will take place in Deathly Hallows, that it will involve the rope in the shop of Borgin and Burkes, and that it will cause a great shift in someone’s perception of another character or set of circumstances. Whether the hanging is a figurative one or a real one and whether the character being hanged will survive the act, once again I am not sure and will have to wait until 21 July to find out.

As you can see, the Borgin and Burkes shop is significant to the story. It is crucial in its contents and how Draco Malfoy takes notice of them and it is meaningful in the uses Draco puts these objects toward. We may yet see more objects come to light at the shop, perhaps even a Horcrux hidden there during the time that Tom Riddle was an employee; but for now we know to pay attention to what Draco finds interesting and only one object has yet to come into play that he did find interesting way back in Chamber of Secrets – the coil of hangman’s rope. We have seen that hanging is a common theme in the books, much more than we were previously aware and that hanging upside-down is the most common of these themes. We now know that the theme of hanging upside-down may not presage death, but instead may point to a paradigm shift in someone’s perceptions of another character or situation as a whole and that this may be a key turning point in the final book, Deathly Hallows.


Notes

1. Rowling, Chamber of Secrets, 50, 129.

2. Ibid., 49-50.

3. Ibid., 50-53.

4. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 204-206.

5. Ibid., 206.

6. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 127.

7. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 52.

8. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 129-30.

9. Wikipedia, s.v. “Hand of Glory.”

10. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 596.

11. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 52.

12. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 127.

13. Ibid., 248-251.

14. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 50.

15. Ibid., 128-129.

16. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 627.

17. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 526.

18. Ibid., 124.

19. Ibid., 586-87.

20. Ibid., Fantastic Beasts, iv.

21. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 229.

22. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 117.

23. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “Gallows,” “Hallow,” “Hanged.”

24. The Aecletic Tarot, “The Hanged Man.”

25. Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 120.

26. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 647.

27. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 239, 393.

28. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 623-25.

29. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 139, 275.

30. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 125.

31. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 1-4.

32. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 267, 596.


Bibliography

The Aeclectic Tarot, Webmistress: Solandia, http://www.aeclectic.net/basics/hangedman.shtml.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999.

———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.

———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005.

———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003.

———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999.

———. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2001.

Murray, J. A. H., and others, eds. Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd edition, compiled by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner, 20 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. s.v. “Hand of Glory.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_of_Glory (accessed 21 February 2007).


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