"If my parents could see the use it was being put to now ... well, my mother's portrait should give you some idea...."
-- Sirius Black, OP6
Tucked away in northwestern London, a twenty minute walk from Kings Cross Station, lies number twelve, Grimmauld Place (OP10). Both Unplottable and hidden behind a Fidelius Charm, the house is invisible to all but a few (OP6). Though the neighboring Muggles don’t even know the house exists (DH12), it was for many years home to the Black family – one of the wizarding world’s oldest pureblood families, and extremely proud to be so (OP5).
Number twelve, Grimmauld Place was originally owned by a Muggle. An ancestor of the Black family wanted the house for himself, so he ‘persuaded’ the Muggle occupier to leave, casting the appropriate spells on it (JKR:Tw).
Sirius and Regulus Black grew up in number twelve, Grimmauld Place with their parents, Orion and Walburga. Sirius ran away from home around 1976, at age sixteen (OP6) and both Regulus and Orion died just a few years later, in 1979 (DH10, BFT). This left Walburga living in the house alone with the family house-elf, Kreacher. Upon Walburga’s death in 1985 (BFT), the house passed to her only living descendent, Sirius, who though he had been blasted off the family tree had apparently not been disinherited. Since he was in Azkaban, however, the house sat empty for ten years with only Kreacher, now “round the twist,” to look after it (OP6).
When Voldemort returned in 1995 and the Order of the Phoenix was re-formed, Sirius offered number twelve, Grimmauld Place to serve as headquarters. Though the house by then “had the feeling of a derelict building” (OP4), the Order gladly moved in, adding a Fidelius Charm on top of the building’s many pre-existing enchantments to help keep it safe. The house was truly in bad shape, however, and Harry, Sirius, and the Weasleys spent the better part of a summer cleaning it out, with much still left to be done at the end (OP6).
Following Sirius’s death in 1996, the Order temporarily vacated the building for fear that its ownership had passed to his cousin, Bellatrix Lestrange; however, it soon proved that Sirius had successfully left the house to Harry Potter in his will, and with his blessing the Order moved back in once again (HBP3).
In 1997, however, with the Order of the Phoenix believing that Severus Snape had betrayed Dumbledore, the Order of the Phoenix moved out of the building once again, this time permanently, and left behind only enchantments designed to drive Snape away (DH6). Despite fearing Snape’s ability to access the building, though, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger stayed in the house for several weeks that summer and fall, attempting to stay hidden from the Ministry of Magic (DH9, DH12). This worked until, after infiltrating the Ministry, they attempted to return to Grimmauld Place and accidentally brought Yaxley, a Death Eater, along with them. Having given him the secret to their location, the trio was then forced to abandon Grimmauld Place for the remainder of the year, at least until Voldemort’s fall in 1998 (DH14).
It is unknown what became of number twelve, Grimmauld Place after Voldemort’s fall; though one possibility is that this is where Harry and Ginny Potter went on to raise their family.
By the time the Order of the Phoenix made number twelve, Grimmauld Place its headquarters, the house had been placed under “every security measure known to wizard-kind.” Among other things, the house is Unplottable, which makes it accessible only to wizards (OP6), and had spells on the front door such that it could only be unlocked by a wizard using his or her wand (OP4). The house was also placed under a Fidelius Charm, meaning it couldn’t be accessed by wizards, either, unless they were told its location by the Secret-Keeper. Albus Dumbledore was the Secret-Keeper for Grimmauld Place (OP6) until his death in 1997, after which everyone who had been told the secret became a Secret-Keeper themselves (DH6).
Dumbledore’s death also led Mad-Eye Moody to place additional enchantments on the house, in order to prevent Severus Snape from accessing it: he set up a Tongue-Tying Curse that sensed whether a person entering the house was Snape, and if so, bound his tongue; and a Dumbledore figure, made of dust, that approaches intruders unless they tell it that they were not the one who killed Dumbledore (DH9).
When a wizard approaches number twelve, Grimmauld Place who knows of its location, it appears to shove its neighboring houses, number eleven and number thirteen, out of the way as it appears between them. What’s revealed is a worn set of front steps, leading to a battered front door. On the door is a silver knocker in the shape of a twisted serpent, with no keyholes, handles, or anything else that would indicate it to be a door, as it opens only by magic (OP4). However, there is a doorbell – a “loud, clanging bell” that has a tendancy to awaken Walburga Black’s portrait inside (OP6). When one leaves the house, the building vanishes behind him the instant he reaches the street (OP10).
The front door opens into a long hallway, lit with gas lamps and a large overhead chandelier. At one time this must have been a grand entryway, complete with ornate portraits on the walls, but by the time Harry first visited the house it was gloomy and cobwebby, with the wallpaper peeling off and the carpet worn thin (OP4). Of all the portraits, the most prominent (though it’s often covered with curtains) is an enormous portrait of Walburga Black, stuck to the wall via a Permanent Sticking Charm, which takes to screaming at the top of her lungs whenever she spots “Mudbloods” in her house (OP5). Much of the decor in the entry hall is made of serpents, though there is also an umbrella stand made from the severed leg of a troll, that Tonks is particularly prone to knocking over (OP4).
On one side of the entry hall sits a dining room, where a dresser holds the Black family china, complete with the family crest. At some point while the house was abandoned, a family of spiders the size of saucers moved into this dresser; Harry, Sirius, and the Weasleys cleaned these out during their summer at Grimmauld Place, though admittedly Ron didn’t help much (OP6).
A door at the far end of the entry hall (OP4), a set of narrow stone stairs leads to the basement, and the house’s kitchen. Though less ornate than the floors above, the kitchen is still a large, “cavernous” room with a large fireplace at the far end. Iron pots and pans hang from the ceiling above, and a long wooden table sits in the center of the room, large enough to fit a couple dozen people around it for a meal. The room had a gloomy feeling when it was occupied by the Order of the Phoenix (OP5), but when Harry later lived in the house, Kreacher cleaned the room up and made it sparkling, “almost unrecognizable” as the same room where the Order once held its meetings (DH12).
Also in the basement, just off the kitchen, is a dark pantry, large enough for two people to stand in comfortably (OP22); and another cupboard off the kitchen houses the boiler for the house, as well as Kreacher’s den, filled with rags, smelly blankets, and photographs of the Black family. Other than these two small rooms, however, the kitchen seems to fill the entire basement – making it quite a large room indeed.
At the end of the entrance hall, facing the door, a grand staircase leads to the upper floors of number twelve, Grimmauld Place (DH11). The wall on the stair is decorated with a row of shrunken house-elf heads, mounted on the wall on plaques (OP4). On the first landing, however, there are at least three rooms: a bedroom, where Hermione and Ginny once slept (OP6); a bathroom where Harry once ran when he was overcome with a vision of Voldemort (DH12); and, of the most significance, the drawing room (OP6).
The drawing room was at one time exquisite, with large windows overlooking the street in front of the house, a large fireplace flanked by two ornate glass-fronted cabinets, and an entire wall covered with a tapestry of the Black family tree. In the summer of 1995, though, the room mostly just needed a good cleaning, as the curtains were filled with doxies, the writing desk housed a boggart, and the dark items in the cabinets – from snakeskins to bottles of blood to boxes of Wartcap Powder – were ready to put up a fight against anyone trying to clean them up (OP6, OP9). It was in this room that Kreacher stored Slytherin’s locket when he couldn’t get it open, and it was in this room that Harry, Ron, and Hermione slept (Hermione on the sofa cushions) when they returned to the house two years later to hide from the Ministry (DH10).
The second floor houses at least one bedroom, and possibly more; it was in this room that Harry and Ron slept during their first stay at Grimmauld Place. The room had two twin beds and a wardrobe, and like the rest of the house was gloomy, had lofty ceilings, and had a doorknob in the shape of a serpent (OP4). On the wall is a portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black (though Hermione later removed this in DH12), and in the corner is a wastebasket that coughs when owl droppings are placed in it (OP9).
From the landing on the second floor, it is possible to look down over the bannisters and see the top of anyone’s head who is standing in the front entrance hall (OP4).
All we know about this floor is that it had a moldy cupboard that Harry, Ron, and Hermione had to clean out (OP9), though it’s likely that there are bedrooms on this floor where Fred, George, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley slept as well, as they were a floor above Harry and Ron but couldn’t all have fit in Regulus’s room (OP6).
The topmost landing is probably the fourth floor (unless the house is truly enormous – remember the high ceilings on every floor), and on this floor are only two doors: one leading to Sirius’s room, and the other to Regulus’s. The latter was marked by a sign on the door – “Do Not Enter Without the Express Permission of Regulus Arcturus Black” – that eventually proved to be the clue Harry would need to discover the identity of R.A.B. Though Harry never entered either until he owned the house himself, he could tell that both rooms had once been beautiful, with carved wooden headboards on the beds, velvet curtains, and fine wall hangings and furniture.
The decor in the two rooms, of course, could not have been more different: Sirius decked his room out in Gryffindor colors and banners, and posters of Muggle biker girls. In Regulus’s room, slightly smaller, the decor of course highlighted his Slytherin, pure-blood heritage, with a Black family crest painted over the bed and newspaper clippings about Voldemort donning the walls (DH10).
We know of a few other rooms in the house, for which we are never given locations:
- The master bedroom, where Sirius keeps Buckbeak (perhaps on the third floor?) (OP6)
- An upstairs toilet, where a “murderous ghoul” was once living (OP6)
- An attic, where Kreacher pretended he had been hiding after he ran off to talk to Narcissa Malfoy (OP24, OP37)
.@CharlsEC A Black ancestor coveted the beautiful house, so 'persuaded' the Muggle occupant to leave & put the appropriate spells on it.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) February 6, 2015
Just to show you how sometimes we can get a little too intense in our search for clues and hidden meanings:
I was reading the fourth chapter out loud to my son Chris. When I was done, I told him excitedly that I was going to figure out what "Grimmauld" meant, that I was going to search the web and look it up in my French dictionary and so on. He gave me a rather patronizing look and said, "Dad, it means 'grim old place.'" He's right of course. This is actually a play on words on another level as well, since Sirius in the form of Snuffles was assumed to be a a spectral dog called a 'grim' in folklore. - SVA