Indiana Regulus and the Cave of Doom
I’d like now to take a dive into the murky waters of Regulus Black’s Death Eater adventure.
Let me say first off that I’m not particularly happy with Rowling’s explanation of how he got hold of Voldemort’s Horcrux. It makes Voldemort look like an idiot, for one; he had absolute proof that someone who brought in a house-elf would be able to row right out of the cave with the thing undetected. It makes Regulus look like an idiot, for another; he had no need that we can tell to have committed suicide-by-zombie since Kreacher could have just Apparated the both of them back home. I think we are missing some pieces.
One piece is my strong suspicion that, ordinarily, a Dark wizard would be able to tell when a Horcrux was destroyed, even though Voldemort did not. When Harry asks Albus about this with respect to Voldemort, the answer is very peculiar: “I believe not,” Dumbledore says (emphasis mine). Excuse me? He believes not? According to Rowling, the person who invented this magic was a wizard from ancient Greece (though it is a Latinate term). That’s plenty long enough for it to have been a known fact one way or the other—and I think that the answer usually was “yes.” (If the answer was usually “no,” then Dumbledore presumably would have answered no without any thought.) If it were only done once, then if that one Horcrux were destroyed, its owner would indeed still be able to feel it. But there is a lot of emphasis placed on the fact that Voldemort was, apparently, the first person to do this more than one time, and that by so doing, he hadn’t enough soul left to be able to feel when other pieces of his soul were destroyed. (This is also borne out with the destruction of the Horcruxes and how only three—the three with the largest pieces of soul within them—put up a fight.) Regulus Black would have assumed that Voldemort had only made one, and that when the locket was exorcised, Voldemort would find out about it, and he—Regulus—would be as good as dead anyway. He also would have assumed that Voldemort wouldn’t attempt to do this again.
But this still isn’t sufficient to explain Regulus’s choice to bring about his own death, though it was undoubtedly a contributing factor.
The first we hear of Regulus is when Sirius says that he got involved with the Death Eaters and got himself killed. “On Voldemort’s orders [...] I doubt Regulus was ever important enough” for Voldemort to have killed him, says Sirius. Lupin corroborates this idea in Half-Blood Prince when he says that Regulus only managed to stay alive for a few days after deserting. Where in the world did this idea come from? If it went down as Kreacher indicates it did, Regulus would have disappeared. His death would have shown up on the tapestry. (That tapestry does not have to be embroidered manually; the house was empty after its last occupant died, and yet her death date was recorded on it. By whom, Kreacher? Who let the house fall into disrepair after her death? Why posit this when we have a ready explanation, that it is done by magic?) The Death Eaters would have assumed that Regulus had died at the hands of their enemies if they had been given no reason to believe him disloyal, and you’d think that if this were the general belief among Death Eaters, Snape would not have resisted the opportunity to display that he knew more than Sirius about his own brother. The story that Sirius passed down, and the absence of pushback about it, indicates that Regulus’s perfidy was already known to the DEs. Kreacher wasn’t lying; he couldn’t lie to Harry at that point, but he didn’t tell the whole story. It wasn’t relevant.
So Regulus did indeed say or do something to get himself marked. He didn’t commit suicide for no reason.
We can also assume that the Death Eaters do not know everything about what everyone else is doing. In fact, we know this for a fact; we are given a demonstration of it in Half-Blood Prince when Narcissa Malfoy is coming to Snape with information that she thinks he already knows but that he may not know, and that if he didn’t know, she wasn’t supposed to tell him. And Narcissa wasn’t even a Death Eater! When Regulus disappeared, the Death Eaters all probably assumed that someone else in the organization had done him in and it was Not To Be Talked About.
It invites the question of just what Voldemort did, however. You would think he’d be suspicious if someone whose Elf he had just used to hide a Horcrux suddenly put himself on the hit list and then disappeared. You’d think he would at least have checked the lake. But unfortunately, we cannot really consider what Voldemort may or may not have known until we resolve the problem of what Regulus did to get himself on the hit list.
It’s implied with Kreacher’s words (“disturbed in his mind”) that Regulus was turned against Voldemort because of the Horcrux itself, but this doesn’t fly. One, it is flatly impossible that he treated anyone within the organization to a moral rant about the evil of Horcruxes. If it had been the sole reason he was determined to revolt, he gave out some other pretext instead. And, too, if his revolt were all about the Horcrux, you’d think he would have known more about them than he apparently did and would at least have filled Kreacher in on how to get rid of one. Clearly, the Horcrux is important; it is the weapon he intended to use against Voldemort, but is it really more than that? I don’t think so. I think Regulus’s rage was focused on something else.
What about Voldemort’s betrayal of Regulus himself, then? One doesn’t get the impression that the Death Eaters were told that the house-elf Voldemort wanted was going to be killed, did they, or Regulus certainly wouldn’t have volunteered Kreacher. From Regulus’s point of view, this was a betrayal of trust. Maybe even a betrayal of something the Black family itself stood for. They did mount the heads of dead elves on the wall, but even in the real world, people did things in the Victorian era that many of us would raise an eyebrow or two at, such as taxidermied corpses of deceased pets, or even more morbidly, posed portraits of their deceased children. It was probably originally an act of sentimentality and appreciation that just never got stopped even after most people stopped doing such morbid things. The point is that the Black household did appreciate their elves. I can see this betrayal of Voldemort’s making Regulus angry.
But whatever Regulus himself may have been ticked off about, it still poses problems for Regulus to have gotten the Death Eaters after him by mouthing off about what happened to his elf. Big problems. In the first place, if Regulus let anyone in the organization know that the specific elf he sent had survived, there is no way that Voldemort wouldn’t have checked that cave at once and gone gunning for the elf (probably telling Bellatrix to do it, as she readily had access).
Well, what if Regulus lied and grumbled about how his elf was “killed”? What about that being the reason why he got himself marked—complaining about the actions his Dark Lord took? This seems like it would work at first, but it ignores two big problems still. First, Regulus, presumably, would not want to get himself marked for death if he could help it, so deliberately circulating lies that would put him on the hit list is incredibly stupid. Second, Voldemort is a Legilimens. (Everyone seems to forget this, often including Rowling herself.) He would see right through such a lie. Return to the scenario of Voldemort’s discovering Kreacher’s survival.
Some people have taken the Black family tapestry sketch that Rowling made, which depicts Regulus’s father’s death as occurring in the same year as his, and run with that, positing that Mr. Black did something to get himself killed at Death Eater hands and that this was what got Regulus angry. I am going to resist the temptation. I do not trust any date whatsoever on that thing and I am not going to rely on it for a theory.
Others have run with the fact that one of the Black sons’ grandfathers (probably the paternal) bought an Order of Merlin by bribing Ministry officials, and drawn the conclusion that there were Ministry connections who might have been able to tell the elder Mr. Black that Voldemort was a half-blood. These theorists have suggested that this discovery is what Regulus really got steamed about. It’s really tempting, I admit. Let’s explore the possibilities of this one, fitting it with Kreacher’s account that the Black parents were “proud” of Regulus for joining the Death Eaters. And, unfortunately, the stupid tapestry fits into it of its own accord, though it is not required for the theory.
We can suppose that the parents were proud, and that eager beaver Regulus quickly volunteered Kreacher to go to the cave and drink the potion. Soon afterward, the old grandfather Arcturus, the head of the family, tipped all three of them off about Riddle’s half-blood status. Regulus, who was already feeling betrayed that his Lord would trick him and send his elf off to die, was enraged that a filthy half-blood, of all people, dared to do such a thing to an elf belonging to the Blacks. He began thinking about how to get revenge. Voldemort’s chosen name implies that immortality was his goal, and his byline was that he was deathless. At some point, Regulus must have put two and two together and figured out that the locket Kreacher had seen was a Horcrux. His father made some stand against Voldemort and died. Regulus immediately was put on a “watch list” of sorts. Being a teenage boy, he could not deflect suspicion from himself, and, one day (let’s say a day soon after his father’s death), turned up “disturbed in his mind,” as Kreacher said. He had deserted, perhaps failing to answer a summoning via the Dark Mark, and knew the Death Eaters were after him. Events unfold as in the book. Bellatrix could have gleefully reported to her Dark Lord that Regulus’s death date had appeared on the tapestry. The Death Eaters would have assumed that one of themselves (or Voldemort himself) got him. Voldemort would have assumed, perhaps, that the Order of the Phoenix got him or that he committed suicide. (Well, he did.) No one would have talked about it, but the story of his treachery would have still been circulated.
It works reasonably well—except for one thing. With this mess, there is always one piece that just doesn’t fit. We still cannot explain why Voldemort didn’t investigate the cave after his watched Death Eater disappeared. Or did he? Maybe he just didn’t look any further than to turn the potion transparent and verify that there was a locket in there (and assume that the lack of the emerald-encrusted “S” meant that it was facedown). And by the time he made his mental rant in which he listed all the Horcrux locations, he had completely forgotten about this—because, for all he knew, Regulus hadn’t ever known about it.
It’s not pretty, but I invite you to come up with something that works better. Rowling really needed an editor for this one.
Another problem with Rowling’s official account of Regulus’s last days is that he knew what a Horcrux was but apparently did not see fit to tell his house-elf how to destroy one, or even that it would be harder by far than destroying other things. That’s strange. That is very strange. Fortunately, however, this one is more fun to play with because there are a lot fewer constraints on it. I much prefer open theorizing to attempting to clean up after a writer’s messes.
Regulus surely had access to Dark Arts books in the house, but if he had the same book that Hermione had in the final volume, he sure didn’t tell Kreacher anything about the destruction parts. You also get the impression that he didn’t know the details himself, or he would have made a more valiant attempt to stay alive. And yet, he did know something. The kid knew about this stuff at age 17 or thereabouts. Well, he had grown up in a family of Dark wizards, so no surprise there. In fact, I think I may just be able to guess what the source of Regulus’s knowledge and yet lack of knowledge was, and if I’m right, he learned about this almost in the cradle!
Rowling wrote five stories for a “partial version” of Beedle the Bard. One of the stories was called “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart.” In it, a Dark wizard feared love and removed his heart from his body, sealing it away. The heart becomes calcified and bestial in its separation, and when he attempts to reunite it with his body, he cannot bring back the emotion that he lost and ends up killing his mate to take her heart instead. He then kills himself trying to re-remove the hairy heart from his body and replace it with a good one. In the commentary about the story, “Albus Dumbledore” writes that many people had noted the similarity of removing the heart to the concept of a Horcrux. Well, I see more similarity than just that; in Deathly Hallows Hermione’s stolen book says that it is “painful” to reunite one’s soul after it has been separated and that it often leads to death. And of course, murder is required to create a Horcrux in the first place.
There is another story in Rowling’s Beedle entitled “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot.” The “original version” is Muggle-friendly, but she says that over the ages, an anti-Muggle version came about, and that was the version that most wizard children knew. Like children in the real world who grow up and are surprised at the often gory and macabre original versions of their beloved old fairy tales, these wizard children are surprised to find that the original version of their old fairy tale was so different.
We also know, of course, that the “Tale of the Three Brothers” had an entire secret society spring up around the objects that featured in it. A society whose adherents concluded that the story was probably a fanciful retelling of an actual event.
What if a corrupted version of “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” got circulated, involving the creation of a Horcrux—something that could be done magically—instead of the removal of the heart, which could not be done? How about a version of it in which the wizard did something that very well might have affected his capacity to experience love, as opposed to removing an organ which (even if it were magically possible) had nothing at all to do with it? The people coming up with this hypothetical version might have had a similar mindset to the Hallows questers in assuming that the story’s origin was a real event (and hey, within the Potter universe, maybe it was), and they could have believed themselves to be “correcting” the story to match with its “real” origin. Maybe they were those same wizards who “noted the similarity” of the removal of the heart to creating a Horcrux.
Yeah, I can see the Dark Arts-loving Black family telling such a story to their children. It implies that Sirius also knew about their existence, but then, he never bothered to tell Harry that wizards had fairy tales of their own, he certainly never told Harry any pleasant reminiscences from his childhood (such as having fairy stories read to him), and he would not have supposed there would be any reason to tell Harry about this particular story. I am so drawn to this story being the source of Regulus’s knowledge that I can readily accept the consequence of Sirius’s also knowing about the existence of Horcruxes but just not seeing any relevant reason to tell Harry about them. Albus Dumbledore may have done everything in his power to prevent people from knowing that this magic existed, but he has a long-standing pattern of trying to control what information that people have. And he is not the Wizarding World as a whole; he is one man.
If this is how Regulus knew about Horcruxes, his lack of knowledge about how to destroy them makes a little more sense. It also would make it blatantly obvious that this is not what turned him against Voldemort. Certainly it would be an unsavory thing to do, especially if presented in the form of a story about how even Dark wizards need to value certain emotions. And you will notice, too, that every member of the Black family has a death date. They didn’t do this, however Dark they were. But if it was something that the family would introduce to their children while they are still of an age where they will enjoy fairy tales, it seems unlikely that such children will be inclined to revolt against it in horror upon learning of someone who has actually done it. Childhood conditioning goes a long way.
This next discussion is somewhat of a diversion from Regulus’s part in the adventure, but it does not really warrant its own essay, and this is the only reasonable place to put it in the absence of that. The essay does have a title with two parts, and this section of the essay deals exclusively with the second part: the cave itself. The cave is a very intriguing piece of setting, and I am not interested in lazily dismissing it as something that Voldemort created for the purpose of storing Inferi (and later, a Horcrux). I think, in common with other fans, that it is a place that he intuitively recognized as a child as a place of magic. We have stories in folklore and legend of mystic places of water where people go to seek strength, youth, beauty, wisdom, self-knowledge, etc. (Even Rowling created a story of this kind in her Beedle the Bard. “The Fountain of Fair Fortune” has a fountain, though the fountain does not have any magical virtue.) The cave in HBP is quite similar to these fonts, and we do not need to hypothesize that Voldemort created it.
We actually are given ample invitation from the books themselves to think that he didn’t create it. In the first place, in absolutely no other instance did he create a special place to hide a Horcrux. He simply used a place that was already there, including (in the case of magical places) whatever spells were present. He didn’t enhance the Gaunt shack, and he certainly made free and rather lazy use of the protective spells that were already in place at Gringotts and the Room of Requirement. It would be totally out of proportion (and out of character, all things considered) for him to have created everything in that cave. Repurposing an existing place of magic fits far better with the pattern that has been set.
In the second place, we are invited to believe that he discovered the cave at a very young age. Most fans apparently do not think that Tom Riddle could have gotten past the first cave, the shallow one with the blood-magic door, as a child. These fans have taken Dumbledore’s comment that the climb down the cliff alone would have terrorized the children as some kind of proof that this is all that happened. I am not so sure that we can dismiss the idea that Riddle did get into the inner cave, however. The two children refused to talk about whatever had happened and were “not right” again. This alone is extremely suggestive. If it were just a climb down the cliffside and an exploration of the outer cave, it would be scary, yes, but why shouldn’t they have talked about that? Why should that have traumatized them to the point of being not right in the head? Children often have very active and violent imaginations, and such an experience would be a really cool adventure after it was safely over—as long as nothing out of the ordinary happened. I think something magical happened, something that the children knew would not be believed, that they may not have actually believed themselves. They certainly wouldn’t have gotten far in the inner cave, but I can definitely accept that the cave was exposed. It’s even possible that the inner cave was exposed to them accidentally; how hard could it have been for someone to slip on the rocks and get cut? Harry certainly did. If the door opened up by accident, Tom could even say with absolute truth that he didn’t do anything to them. We do a real disservice to the possibilities by taking Dumbledore’s guess as gospel truth regarding the origin of the blood payment charm. Such a type of magic is extremely traditional, after all, for all that it is certainly Dark. There is no reason to associate it with Voldemort in particular. Dumbledore’s contempt for a tradition packed with meaning says a lot more about him than about anything else, and if he is speaking for his author, then frankly it says something about her too.
There is no doubt that Voldemort ruined whatever the original purpose of the cave was, however. I seriously doubt that that purpose would have been to kill whoever entered and turn them into an undead corpse. (And Albus Dumbledore is, frankly, full of it when he says that Voldemort would have wanted to keep someone alive who got into the place. The presence of the Inferi and their action being keyed to the disturbing of the water sure refuted that hypothesis.) That is not a traditional function of places like this in legend. The lake didn’t create zombies. Voldemort did, and he kept his zombies in the lake. It is also possible that he poisoned the basin, though I think it is unlikely. We can rule out that the Horcrux’s presence had anything to do with what that potion did; it already brought forth one’s worst memories before the Horcrux went in. Kreacher tells us so. And it’s difficult to imagine what purpose Voldemort would have for poisoning the basin before using its properties as a protective measure for the locket. Indeed, the fact that he wanted an elf specifically to remove the potion indicates that he already had an idea of what its effects would be, and that he wanted no part of them himself. Voldemort may very well have done nothing to the potion. This is my belief. In this case, the original purpose of the cave could have been to purify one who entered. As a classical element, water is associated with purification. In historical alchemy, part of purification involves dredging up the impurities by magical means. Voldemort would certainly have wanted to avoid this. The lake water was apparently the only type of water that could be drunk while in that place, indicating that it too (originally) had magical properties. Indeed, after drinking the water, Dumbledore regained his strength and his wits pretty quickly.
Voldemort’s boat was almost certainly his own addition. Dumbledore said he knew Tom Riddle’s style and that the boat displayed it. Probably he discovered that whatever vessel was originally in the place (if any; it’s distinctly possible that someone would have to swim across the lake in its undefiled state to reach the basin) set off the Inferi once he put them there, and he had to have a boat there that they would ignore. He had already used that lake to store the Inferi before he put the Horcrux in the basin. Since he probably wouldn’t have needed a boat if all he used the cave for at first was to store the Inferi, the boat may have been a very recent bit of magic indeed, something he invented once he realized he needed a way to get to the basin.