Nagini and Dumbledore’s Connection
Warning: This post contains spoilers for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
When the Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald trailer dropped, the first thing I did was dive down a deeply disturbing rabbit hole about Nagini and Voldemort. But as your resident Dumbledorologist, my thoughts then turned to Albus Dumbledore and how he ties into the Nagini reveal.
Just like in my other article, the question I want to be answered is whether Dumbledore knows about the snake’s human past and what the implications are. (And Merlin’s beard, I hope the implications are less gross than in the prior article.) This is a very different exercise from theorizing about Voldemort and Nagini because there is absolutely no conclusive evidence either way.
However, by examining relevant moments, we are able to make a plausible case for Dumbledore knowing – plausible, but I won’t say probable. And if that is the case, that casts things into a fascinating new light. So while I don’t promise any epiphanies, I invite you to join me and take a look at some key Dumbledore/Nagini moments in the text to see what kind of a reading emerges.
… a body I would be able to inhabit while awaiting the essential ingredients for true rebirth . . . a spell or two of my own invention . . . a little help from my dear Nagini,” Voldemort’s red eyes fell upon the continually circling snake, “a potion concocted from unicorn blood, and the snake venom Nagini provided . . . I was soon returned to an almost human form, and strong enough to travel.”
The biggest piece of evidence Dumbledore might have regarding Nagini’s identity is the process of returning Voldemort to a body. We don’t know if the potion required snake venom in general or snake venom specifically from a Maledictus. If it’s the latter, it would be an astronomically rare potion ingredient – rare enough to be beyond even Dumbledore’s wealth of knowledge. But if anyone would know about an arcane potion that calls for Maledictus snake venom, it would be Dumbledore. Of course, if regular snake venom would do or if it’s a potion of Voldemort’s own invention, then Dumbledore would be none the wiser.
As for the creation of Babymort, we don’t know if Dumbledore knows about the Dark magic involved in the process since that kind of thing probably doesn’t happen very often. It feels strange to be discussing magic of which Dumbledore may have no knowledge, but the spells here are so obscure and so dark that it’s possible Dumbledore didn’t know of them.
What’s in a Name?
Here is something worth noting: The first time anyone other than Voldemort says Nagini’s name is midway through Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Dumbledore brings it up.
I think I know what the sixth Horcrux is. I wonder what you will say when I confess that I have been curious for a while about the behavior of the snake, Nagini?
This is interesting – how does Dumbledore know the name? There are two possibilities. The more mundane one is that Snape reported it to Dumbledore; we do see that Snape knows her name in “The Prince’s Tale.” But I think this is further evidence of my theory that Dumbledore performed Legilimency on Harry after Voldemort’s resurrection (for more in-depth analysis of this, see page 82 of my book, The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore). Dumbledore watched Voldemort use the name in Harry’s memories of the graveyard. The million-Galleon question is what the name meant (if anything) to Dumbledore when he heard it.
In that same conversation about Horcruxes, Dumbledore has the following to say:
She underlines the Slytherin connection, which enhances Lord Voldemort’s mystique; I think he is perhaps as fond of her as he can be of anything; he certainly likes to keep her close.
Dumbledore does not use any language to make one think that Nagini is anything more than a snake. But this could be despite his knowledge of Nagini’s past because he has to factor his grand plans into everything he tells (or doesn’t tell) Harry. Dumbledore knows that Harry places an incredibly high value on human life, as he should. Dumbledore also knows that “killing rips the soul apart.” If he knows about Nagini, he is keeping it from Harry to ensure that Harry won’t hesitate in destroying the Naginicrux because he cannot afford to have Harry hesitate in carrying out his mission. Dumbledore goes to extraordinary lengths to make sure Harry will triumph; it makes more sense for him to keep Harry in the dark rather than have him wrestling with moral quandaries.
Furthermore, if Dumbledore does know about Nagini/Babymort, he is certainly obfuscating here, heavily implying that Nagini is a favored pet and status symbol instead of an ersatz mother. Dumbledore is simply trying to spare Harry the gruesome details of what happened; true, Dumbledore is entrusting the fate of the world to this 16-year-old boy, but there is little to be gained by traumatizing Harry with the knowledge of what happened. (Judging by the reactions to my last article, most of us would rather be spared the thought of it as well, and we’re mostly well past 16.)
He seems to have an unusual amount of control over her, even for a Parselmouth.
This is the key phrase that I’m curious about since it implies an almost total lack of agency on Nagini’s part when she’s being Voldemort’s hench-snake. Once again, we can read it either way. If Dumbledore doesn’t know, take it at face value. But if he does know, then there are implications for how a Maledictus works.
The crucial question of human-Nagini’s consciousness once she’s gone full-snake is an open one: Either she’s fully cognizant of her past or her human self is wholly gone and she thinks she’s a regular snake. Once again, we don’t have any conclusive evidence either way, but it adds very different layers to the story depending on which one is true. If Nagini is not aware of her past, then Voldemort is controlling her as he would any other snake. But if Nagini is aware of her human past, is she a willing ally or an unwilling tool being controlled by Parseltongue?
We now can finally determine something: If Dumbledore knows about Nagini, then he believes Nagini is not a willing ally for Voldemort but is being controlled. That’s something, at least, for this rather inconclusive essay.
We can further corroborate this with a quote by Jo explaining “in essence divided.”
Dumbledore suspected that the snake’s essence was divided – that it contained part of Voldemort’s soul, and that was why it was so very adept at doing his bidding.
The implication is that Nagini is able to do what she does because of the bit of Voldy-soul inside her, not because she has the consciousness of a human with which to abet Voldemort’s evil deeds.
Dumbledore’s Master Plan
Unless one or the other has a significantly smaller role in the films than we are led to believe, Dumbledore and Nagini will get to know each other. From the very little we see of Nagini, it looks like she’s at least potentially on the same side as Dumbledore. The topic of the blood curse will certainly come up at some point. (Shout-out to commenter I V for the lovely theory that Dumbledore switches his focus to Transfiguration to undo Nagini’s malediction!) So how could Dumbledore not know, decades later, that the woman and Voldy’s new pet are one and the same?
That will be the question that will probably endure throughout this film series. Is there any way for Dumbledore to not recognize her? In favor of that argument is the fact that Dumbledore and Nagini never interact or even occupy the same space, so there’s a chance Nagini’s former identity is another theory of Dumbledore’s that he can’t substantiate.
We also don’t know what will happen in the coming movies; the wizarding world seems rife with faked deaths and disappearances. In counterpoint, after so many people come back from the dead, Dumbledore should be even more on guard than before. But let us now suppose that Dumbledore does put two and two together and figures out that Nagini the snake is Nagini the person. What does that tell us about his actions?
In the ’90s, Dumbledore was focused wholly on taking down Voldemort and was willing to endure collateral damage in the form of both Severus Snape and in the “nameless and faceless people and creatures […] slaughtered in the vague future” as he made his plans. Would Nagini have been considered another acceptable loss in Dumbledore’s campaign against Voldemort?
This brings us back to the primary question of Nagini’s sentience in her permanent snake form. If the human version of Nagini is long gone from consciousness, then having to destroy the snake is mildly regrettable at worst. But if Nagini is still there somewhere, that makes the issues thornier.
Recall that Dumbledore does not consider Nagini a willing participant in Voldemort’s depravity. He may, therefore, view her destruction as a liberation rather than a murder. At this point, the woman would have been trapped in the snake’s body for decades, infused with Voldemort’s soul and coerced into all kinds of horrible things like eating Hogwarts faculty and making Voldybabies. This may be an instance where Dumbledore considers death to be “but the next great adventure” – in fact, I’ll bet a Galleon that phrase will come up around Flamel in the Fantastic Beasts franchise.
There’s already a precedent for Dumbledore expressing such views: when he is contemplating his own impending death. “You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation,” said Dumbledore. By that same logic, it would not harm Dumbledore’s soul to help an old acquaintance avoid pain and humiliation. So I believe Dumbledore’s conscience would be pretty clear.
As a closing note, despite my kvetching the other day about the spoiler, the reveal of Nagini’s identity has given me better fodder for speculation than anything else that’s come out of the Fantastic Beasts franchise and has made my excitement for the film skyrocket. I just want to say… it feels good to be back!