Dorea Potter, Charlus Potter, and Canon
by The Face of Boe
The Harry Potter fandom has exploded with speculation over the new Black family tree – or at least, what we have seen of it so far. Much of this speculation has included, of course, Harry’s possible relationship with other pureblood families. Are Harry and Sirius cousins? Could Harry be related to the Malfoys? Has Harry fallen in love with his third cousin once removed, Ginny? All of this conjecture is the result of two names appearing on the tree: Charlus and Dorea (nee Black) Potter. The date of Dorea’s death fell in 1977, around the time James’s parents would’ve died. Charlus and Dorea also only had one son; James, as we know, is an only child. With this new information, pinning this Potter pair to be the parents of James is easy enough to do. However, I believe that upon closer examination, the facts simply do not come together. Let’s take a look at why.
The first discrepancy this theory has with canon is that of the age of Dorea. At first glance, the date of death seems roughly correct, while the opposite is indeed true. In Order of the Phoenix, Sirius did state,
When I was seventeen I got a place of my own – after that I looked after myself. I was always welcome at Mr. and Mrs. Potter’s for Sunday lunch, though (pages 103-4, UK paperback).
To reiterate, at seventeen, probably just after his graduation from Hogwarts, Sirius visited James and James’s parents. The problem with this is a simple one: according to the Lexicon (the great bastion of all that is canon) Sirius left school in the summer of 1978. Dorea Potter died in 1977. Dorea could not have invited Sirius around for Sunday lunch – she was already deceased. The date of death, then, is off by at least a year, suggesting that Dorea could not have been James’s mother.
An even bigger problem with this theory is the birth date. This is what J.K. Rowling said of James’s parents last year, in the famous Interview:
James’s parents were elderly, were getting on a little when he was born, which explains the only child, very pampered, had-him-late-in-life-so-he’s-an-extra-treasure, as often happens, I think. They were old in wizarding terms, and they died. They succumbed to a wizarding illness.
We also know, from JKR, that “wizards have a much longer life expectancy than Muggles” (Scholastic, 2000).
This is certainly borne out in the canon. We know that Dumbledore was over 150 when he died. Newt Scamander, according to Fantastic Beasts, is around 100 and still going strong. Slughorn was balding when he taught Tom Riddle, so he must be around 90 by now. Clearly, the life expectancy of a wizard, by our standards, is extremely long.
Herein lies the problem. James’s parents were “elderly” when he was born, and “old in wizarding terms” when they died. If Dorea had been James’s mother, she would have been 39 when he was born and 57 when she died. Neither of these ages is “elderly,” even in Muggle terms. Thirty-nine is sprightly for a wizard; fifty-seven is probably less than the average middle age. Dorea died young. This does not fit with what we have learned from JKR about James’s parents. Technically, Dorea simply could not have been Harry’s grandmother.
If it seems strange to the reader that wizards would give birth at such grand old ages, keep in mind that it certainly is not uncommon. According to JKR’s site, Slytherin Theodore Nott was “raised by a very elderly widower and Death Eater father.” We are then looking at Nott’s father being 80, maybe even 100 when Theodore was born. It seems that wizards and witches can (and do) have children at much older ages than Muggles, probably since with the longer life span, their bodies do not age as quickly. If James’s parents had been “elderly” when he was born, they must have been getting on for 80, probably older – certainly not 39, as Dorea Potter’s age at James’s birth.
The canon evidence against this theory does not stop there, though. We know that when Sirius left the Blacks, the Potters treated him as a second son. Sirius’s uncle Alphard was blasted off the family tree simply for giving his nephew money. If the Potters had as good as adopted young Sirius, wouldn’t they, too, have been blasted off for being blood traitors? These Potters’ names, however, still adorn the Black family tree, however – they could not be blood traitors. Ergo, Dorea and Charlus could not have been James’s parents.
Yet another problem with the Grandpa Charlus/Grandma Dorea speculation can be found as early as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone, when Dumbledore very clearly states that the Dursleys were “the only family [Harry] has left now.” JKR has since confirmed that she killed off all of Harry’s family – including the Potters – except the Dursleys. If Harry and the Weasleys were even third cousins, then these statements would be incorrect. The statements, however, are indeed accepted as canon – which means, surely, that Harry could not be related to Sirius or the Weasleys by blood. Thus, yet another hole has been poked into the theory.
So who was Charlus, if not James’s father? I personally think he was simply some other Potter who married into the Blacks, but not in a way that genetically affects Harry. It is likely that he is James’s uncle or even a more distant relative. Then why, exactly, did JKR put him on the family tree? The appearance of the Potters is probably an example of the interrelatedness of the wizarding world’s pureblood families. This keeps the idea alive, but not in a way that genetically links Harry with any of the other main characters.
The fandom certainly cannot be blamed for quickly tagging Charlus and Dorea and Harry’s grandparents; this family tree was an exciting development, after all. However, after a closer and more objective look at the evidence at hand, it is clear that this is a technical impossibility. It is obvious, though, that only JKR herself can give us a definitive answer as to who Harry’s grandparents really were.