Red Hen Publications

Red Hen Publications — Commentary Collection — Potterverse People Essay: The Riddle House
Potterverse People

Trying to make the Potterverse make sense since 2003!

So. Who owned the Riddle house?

Short Answer; Voldemort did.

From the summary given in the opening chapter of GoF it is clear that the house changed hands any number of times after a notorious triple murder took place there in the summer of 1942.

At the time of the Riddle massacre Tom Riddle was a youngster, still in school, who still had his fortune to make and there wasn’t really much of anything that he could have done about the house then, even if it had occurred to him to wish to.

Some 15–20 years, or so, later he had launched his career as a Dark Lord and over the following 20 years, or so, he managed to appropriate a great deal of other people’s resources which probably included a fair amount of money. Or, in the case of real estate, magically forged records of ownership. I suspect that Tom Riddle would have been perfectly capable of taking possession of the place by magically fuzzing the land records. One wonders whether very old wizarding families are as sniffy about persons who purchase their own estates as some Muggles of great pretension reputedly are about upstarts who purchase their own furniture.

We do not have any details regarding what he was up to during the 10 years of his exile which took place between some point after, say, 1948 and around 1963 or so. (We do not have any solid data to which to tie the actual date of this exile either, unfortunately.) He could have been off making his private fortune, in addition to a quartet or so of Horcruxes. Which would have enabled him to undertake a wide range of subsequent actions. Not the least would have been the acquisition of his grandfather’s house. In fact, both of his grandfathers’ houses. For I would imagine that in anything like the land records, he took possession of the Gaunt property as well.

• • • •

A few hints we got as to the Riddle house’s ownership in the opening chapter of GoF are:

  1. The Riddle house has belonged to its conveniently absent “rich owner” and has stood unoccupied for quite some time. (At least 13 years, perhaps? More? Maybe much more?)
  2. Voldemort, just returned to Britain, in secret, appears to have already known that the house would be unoccupied and available for his use without contacting any of his followers, or, indeed, undertaking any sort of investigation.
  3. Tom Riddle was raised in the mundane world and knows something of how such things are managed in it. And he knew very well that this was his own father’s family’s house, not simply an abandoned property standing vacant. That was the whole point for his purposes. He needed proximity to his father’s gravesite. And the Gaunt hovel, his alternate hide-out, was in ruins. (And he knew that, too.)

I propose that, at some point before, or possibly during his first rise to power, Voldemort decided, upon some whim, to add his grandfather’s house to his personal holdings. We know that he has a pronounced liking for returning to the scenes of previous “triumphs”, and that he takes possession of such places if he can. He likes to collect trophies, after all.

And he already had a good reason to be in the area. Just because he could have hidden the ring Horcrux in the Gaunt cottage as early as the summer after the Riddle Massacre, does not mean that he did it that early. The evidence and maybe-evidence is mounting up to suggest that he did not start dispersing his other Horcruxes into remote hiding places until after he learned of the Prophecy. That discovery couldn’t have been made earlier than the last couple of months of 1979, or early in 1980.

Although my own favorite interpretation is that he left the Ring there in the Gaunt ruin as a booby trap for his uncle Morfin (assuming Albus had been able to secure his release from Azkaban) around the spring or summer of… roughly 1948.

Upon his return with Pettigrew, he may even have hitched a ride with Nagini to check on it one night, so long as he was in the area. She probably wouldn’t have needed to get into the building to know that it was still there and hadn’t “caught” anything.

I definitely favor the idea that the Ring was his first Horcrux, and that, yes he created it from the death of his fellow student Myrtle. He hid it in the Gaunt hovel just before slipping out of Britain after the murder of Hepzibah Smith, stashing it there as a sort of “traveler’s insurance” policy before he set out for Albania in search of the Ravenclaw diadem, I do have to remind myself that we have nothing to confirm that he did that. All we have to work from is that while he does seem to have dumped the Diadem in the Room of Requirement sometime between, oh, 1958 and 1963, he didn’t hide the Locket in the sea cave until ’79 or ’80, didn’t turn the Diary over to Lucius Malfoy until ’81, and had given Bellatrix the Cup for safekeeping at some point after she finished Hogwarts in the early 1970s and his first defeat at Godric’s Hollow in ’81.

And, really, once you stop and consider the matter, an intention to check on the Ring that he left in the ruins of the Gaunt hovel is probably the reason why he was even in the area at all after his return to Britain around 1958–’63. He may have already acquired the Gaunt property — to which he had a perfectly valid claim — by negotiations at long distance after learning that Morfin was reported to be dead, and had been content to let it fall into ruin. But if he had concealed a Horcrux there, that required a personal visit. He’d guarded the place with aversion spells and booby-traps, which would not draw attention, but he still needed to make sure the Ring had not been disturbed.

If this is the case, and he did not hide the Ring about the same time he divested himself of the Locket and the Diary, he may have at any point after his first return to Britain dropped by to check on it, take a look at the old place and have a nice gloat, and discovered that the Riddle house was once again vacant and for sale. He may have just decided to give himself an early birthday present. Right about the time he was setting up that job interview to ask for the DADA post at Hogwarts.

And in any case, what other DE — or indeed, any wizard at all — would have had any reason make that kind of a pilgrimage? Most of them did not even know of the existence of the Riddles. Tom was probably tickled pink to discover, through an agent’s questioning of the locals, that no one had ever been able to bring themselves to stay there for very long after his first “visit”.

• • • •

Given Riddle’s tendency to read the universe as having been created for his own gratification and that, consequently, all events must be about him, the fact that the Riddle house was standing vacant must have seemed like a “sign”. Or at least it suggested that taking control of both of his grandfathers’ properties was an appropriate action to take. I thought that Harry might do well to consider making a through search of the Riddle House once he took up his quest. I’m not at all sure why that thread was completely dropped. They tried to check out the orphanage, after all. Not that it turns out to have mattered.

That the only witness to Riddle’s previous visit to his father’s house was still employed on the property might even have appeared as a bonus, since that way he knew exactly where the man (who was certainly no threat to him) was and he could keep track of him without the slightest bit of effort merely by keeping him on the payroll.

And while it is certainly possible that he may have confided this transaction to one of his higher ranking followers, every indication we’ve been given is against it. I think that he is more likely to have set this acquisition up entirely through mundane channels. In fact, I think he may have even set up an independent mundane bank account and a trust, with an executor to manage the property at a distance (“for tax purposes”), to see that Bryce was paid and the taxes taken care of, and kept the information completely to himself. After all, somebody managed the estate during the 13 years of his absence. Somebody other than a DE.

Because I doubt very much that the DEs had any inkling of the Riddle House’s existence. For one thing, if Bellatrix had known about the Riddle house in 1981, I suspect that she’d have taken the place apart looking for clues of his whereabouts after his disappearance, and that certainly does not seem to be the case.

Although you do wonder, once that the Ministry had openly admitted that Lord Voldemort has returned, whether anyone has been keeping an eye on the old place recently?

And perhaps it is time to take a sidestep and ask ourselves; “Just who were the Riddles?” And does it even matter?

To all appearances, it really doesn’t seem to. The Riddles were stated as being rich, rude, and snobbish. The were also not popular in the village of Little Hangleton, where, to all appearances, they were the predominant landowners in the region.

You get no impression of anything even remotely suggestive of any nobility in that description. Nor even of long-established country gentry, or, for that matter, even particularly old money. In fact, they sound a lot less like the last in an ancient line of bad baronets than they do of the 3rd generation of a shirtsleeves-to-shirtsleeves in 4 generations history of a pack of jumped-up tradesmen. Even the location of the Riddle House, some 200 miles from Surrey, supports this reading. That distance from Surrey sets us squarely in the Yorkshire-Lancashire region, which is liberally endowed with “fine old houses” built by successful Victorian industrialists. Not right next door to their old factories, certainly, but within a comfortable commuting distance to them. In the countryside, you know.

It belatedly occurred to me that if Rowling really wanted to tie it all up with a nice shiny bow, that deteriorating mill town where Spinner’s End is located would have probably turned out to be Great Hangleton, and the owners of that long-defunct mill, the Riddles. Six miles makes a reasonable commute to one’s place of business.

And having the owner and his family murdered would certainly be a good reason to have closed the mill down.

Tom may have indirectly put countless Muggles out of work when that mill closed.

(ETA: No such luck. Spinner’s End is evidently in a town named Cokeworth. Which I would more expect to be in a mining district rather than a place with mills, but what do I know?)

And even if I am wrong about the Riddle house, I think we can feel pretty confident about who owned the woodland on the other side of the valley which holds the ruins of the Gaunt house.

Until quite recently there was even a Horcrux concealed on that property. You rather doubt that Tom would have left something like that lying about in a public wasteland, don’t you. And both of those properties seem to share a single boundary. He could have acquired the holdings of both sides of his family, and combined them into a very nice piece of real estate indeed.

• • • •

Speaking of which; I am convinced that there is another piece of real estate which was among Tom Riddle’s holdings. One that very few people know about, given that it was never mentioned in canon. But at least a few of his followers, possibly only his original followers, have probably heard of it. One or two of them may even have been there.

In the first place, it isn’t in Britain.

It’s in Albania.

Think about it. It took him something like a decade to finally locate the Ravenclaw diadem. He wasn’t wandering the countryside like an itinerant monk. I think he managed to take possession of a piece of property, with a villa, and had established a base that he worked out of. That’s why he high-tailed it back to Albania when he was defeated in 1981. And where he went back to after being dealt a major setback at the end June in 1992.

He may have been riding snakes in a forest, but I suspect that there was a house close enough for him to find as comfortable a nest as could be managed in the foundations.

And the house probably had the reputation of being haunted during the periods that he was between snakes. VaporMort probably wasn’t randomly haunting a forest, either.

For that matter, some of his earliest followers, who had returned, or come to the UK with him back at the time he was asking for the DADA position may have been well aware of that place, and may have mentioned it over the 20 years or so between his return and his defeat.

For that matter, it isn’t completely off the wall that Peter might have learned that Tom had once *had* a base in Albania, either. Even if he knew no more than that it was in a forested area. After hearing Harry’s accounting that Albus thinks that Tom is back in Albania at the end of 2nd year, that would at least have given him a place to start looking, once he decided to seek out his Master and throw himself on his mercy.

It would be a lot easier for him to be looking for a house rather than hope to stumble across a specific snake. At worst — or maybe that’s at best — the property would provide a place for *Peter* to go to ground and be safe from pursuit.

And, really, it’s pure “kid logic” that someone would actually run off to Albania to look for a *snake*, or even a disembodied spirit. Peter is very resourceful, but if that had been the plan, I would think he might just have given up and gone off to Fiji or somewhere that had no association with the DEs at all.

But, yes, I’d say that there is probably a crumbling villa somewhere in Albania with a bad enough reputation that people in the area know about it, but no one much goes there.

• • • •

Which brings us, reluctantly, to the House of Gaunt.

Or do I mean sty?

I think the thing that most disturbs the reader about Rowling’s rendition of the “House of Gaunt”, is that it is so monumentally over the top that it throws the balance of everything that ever had anything to do with Tom Riddle off.

Although, having once encountered it, we cannot really be surprised by anything else that follows. We certainly cannot say that we weren’t warned.

This pervading lack of balance afflicts the entire novel of HBP, when you take a closer look, but it is most glaringly apparent in the depiction of her villain.

What became of the intentions that Rowling claimed to have in that interview all those years ago when she stated that she didn’t want just a 2-dimensional baddie dressed up in black, but a villain whose motivations the reader could understand? “My name is Tom Riddle, and I am a sociopath” clearly wakes up every morning, issues a patented Evil Overlord cackle and addresses his image in the mirror with a query on the order of; “Now, what shall I do today that is eeeeevil?

Assuming he even generates an image in the mirror, that is. (Yes. He does. We’ve seen it. I’m just being sarcastic.)

Let me make myself perfectly clear; I have always interpreted Tom Riddle as presented, as a sociopath, so that discovery was not in the least astonishing, nor is it the point of my objection.

What I would like to know is why has Rowling cut the ground out from under her own feet regarding what she has always claimed to be palming off as her underlying message? You know, the one about how our choices somehow matter?

How can choices matter when nobody involved is represented as being qualified to actually make choices? Sociopaths do not consciously choose to become sociopaths. That kind of damage is done so early that there is no question of there being any kind of choice in the matter..

It is also now also glaringly apparent that all children in the Potterverse are hosed. They apparently have no viable option for doing anything but to blindly repeat their families’ patterns in perfect lockstep. There is no question of nature vs. nurture in Rowling’s world. Children look like their parents, act like their parents adopt their parents’ political stances and effectively become their parents. And in the three cases we have been shown where a boy consciously chose to defy his parents’ expectations, and to oppose their parents position, two of them (Sirius Black and Barty Crouch Jr) came to exceedingly bad ends, so splitting off from a family’s bad choices is certainly not being held up as a viable solution. And Percy Weasley was only spared at the last moment because he recanted of having ever tried to be anyone but his parents.

(Girls, by contrast, are presented as having the “choice” of running off and making unacceptable marriages and merely being disowned by their disapproving families, and never heard from again. Although you have to admit that Merope Gaunt’s story certainly didn’t pan out anything like so harmlessly.)

Clearly this is a world in which “family values” are held to be preeminent. Regardless of whether a given family’s values are actually sound, or otherwise. And such values are overriding, too. To the point of all but universally trumping any flaky radical ideas about personal agency, or the autonomy of the individual. Individualism is clearly not admired in Rowling’s Potterverse. And eccentricity is universally sneered at, although grudgingly permitted in selected cases.

So. Consequently, Death Eaters kids are presumably damned because they accept and keep faith with their families’ bad choices (which we can already see that they are given little option to reject), and Harry is somehow a potential hero because he manages to revere a family he cannot even remember. Excuse me?

Let alone in that his so-called “great victory” was in ultimately choosing NOT to act, at all.

• • • •

Well, okay, I suppose it was necessary to give us a glimpse of the Gaunts. If only to give us a lens through which to examine the Blacks, the Malfoys and any of the series’s other pureblood extremists and their families, all of whom seem to be set upon the same downward path. Not to mention introducing the Peverill thread (which was reasonably well done, actually, but I’m damned if it seems to be even remotely relevant to anything). But why did the picture have to be painted in such broad strokes? Why does Riddle’s evil suddenly have to be set up as being essentially predetermined, hereditary, and all but retroactive?

Particularly given that while a certain tendency toward instability may be hereditary, sociopathic personality disorder isn’t.

An Lj user who goes by the handle of Wikdsushi summed it up in an early posting a few days after HBP came out:

The Ballad of Tom Riddle:


Mah momma talked to snakies,
and mah daddy, he were drugged,
that damn kid killed mah basilisk,
and my followers is thugs....

Because what we’ve ended up with is a picture of monsters spawning monsters, who are inevitably fated to grow up to be monsters, even when they were not raised by monsters.

And not one single choice, or a person properly equipped to make one, in sight.

Then, just to add further insult to injury, at the end of the tale Rowling finally blows us a raspberry and reveals that; *surprise* nobody’s choices ever mattered a bean — except to give nosy observers a handle to think they’d figured out what kind of people the characters were (wrongly, of course, the minute it diverged from what Rowling tells us we are supposed to think of any of these people, in complete defiance of what she shows us) — and that all that really matters is being able to sit on our arses and choose to do nothing (which is the ultimate victory, don’t you know?), and to accept the eventual fact of our own deaths.