Nagini and Voldemort’s Twisted Relationship
WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald as well as adult content.
If you’ve so much as gone on the Internet, let alone actually watched the latest trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, you’ve heard the big news: As suspected, the Maledictus, played by Claudia Kim, is indeed Nagini. Spoiler alert, I guess?
There’s a lot to dive into here, but first, there’s some venting to be done: I’m furious that this was spoiled by the trailer. In general, I’m rankled by just how much of these films are being spoiled in the name of promotion. Reveals of this sort are meant to be gasped at during the film and eagerly discussed afterward. Sure, a lot of people theorized about Claudia Kim being Nagini, but there is a world of difference between a theory and a spoiler.
We just experienced the equivalent of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows summary revealing that RAB was Regulus months before the book came out. It would rob fans of both the opportunity for further speculation (sure, it’s probably Regulus, but it could be Amy Bishop!) and the euphoric triumph of seeing your theory proven right mid-story.
Anyway, with that off my chest, let’s dive into the Nagini reveal. My colleague has already written about four questions we have, but I have only one burning question to ask at this moment: Was Voldemort aware of his hench-snake’s human past?
Did Jo Know?
Before addressing whether Voldemort knew, we need to address a corollary: Did Jo Rowling know? And that answer will depend on whether Voldemort knew; if he did, so did Jo, though not necessarily vice versa.
Jo claims that she has known about this for 20 years. 20 years ago would have been when she was working on Books 3 and 4, so the timing lines up. But fans have been… dubious, to put it mildly, of the veracity of this statement. I received text messages from several friends immediately after the trailer drop questioning whether there was anything to back this up.
It’s a valid concern, though it seems like a silly thing to lie about since Jo has plenty of mystique about her without knowing these tidbits for 20 years. We want proof (as any good detectives should). If Jo had known about this for 20 years, there should have been something dropped as a clue in the books – maybe some little quote or odd turn of phrase that immediately makes sense in light of this new information. Consider Jo’s revelation of Dumbledore being in love with Grindelwald – his backstory in Deathly Hallows immediately took on additional depth and meaning when that factored in, prompting all of us to go “Of course, that explains it!”
In the interest of full disclosure, I set out to write this piece thinking there was no such evidence. But as I contemplated Nagini’s role in the franchise, I had an epiphany. If I’m right (and I think I am), Jo did indeed think of this 20 years ago, and none of us will read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the same way ever again.
Before diving in, I have a disclaimer: This essay will be about the grossest things I’ve ever written about, things completely unsuitable for younger fans or those with weak stomachs. I encourage the first years to click away and save themselves…
Still here? Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
We need to hearken back to one of the oldest magical mysteries in the Potter books: how Vapormort became Babymort.
My prevailing theory on the origin of Babymort, which I was first pointed toward by MuggleCast #300, is that Babymort was created by Pettigrew impregnating Bertha Jorkins and Voldemort possessing the fetus. (And yes, that is really gross on many levels.) I still appreciate that theory for how it adds so many creepy layers to Goblet of Fire.¹ But now a competing theory emerges.
Wormtail was able to follow the instructions I gave him, which would return me to a rudimentary, weak body of my own, 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. . .”
Up until now, I always conflated the two statements about Nagini – “a little help from my dear Nagini” and “the snake venom Nagini provided” – to mean one and the same thing. However, now a different interpretation comes to mind: Is the “little help” something in addition to providing venom?
We need to know more about the reproductive logistics of a Maledictus. Per Jo, the blood curse is “passed down mother to daughter,” implying that the child of a Maledictus will also initially be human and then transform into an animal. What we don’t know is whether that applies only to a Maledictus giving birth while in human form or regardless of whether the Maledictus is animal or human at the time.
If it’s the latter, then Nagini could still have a humanoid baby in her snake form, which would mean that Babymort came from Nagini’s body instead of from Bertha Jorkins. This would add so much ick factor to Voldemort and Nagini’s relationship, I’m squirming just writing about it. Consider that Nagini is already a horrific travesty of a maternal figure to Voldemort (as has been discussed in many excellent essays going back almost 20 years); it just gets so much worse if she’s literally his mother.
The reference to “milking Nagini” has always been treated as a perversion of mother’s milk, but now it would literally be mother’s milk for Voldemort (or mother’s venom, same difference). In general, the idea of milking Nagini is utterly repulsive if she was once a human, and now there’s a weird new light cast on that.
And the fact that Voldemort put a piece of his soul inside his mother to keep himself immortal… it’s a whole new level of depravity for his relationship with Nagini. It takes Oedipus complexes to a whole new level. It would also have the kind of poetry that Voldemort tends to appreciate: If the snake literally gave him life, it makes sense for her to be part of what gives him eternal life, despite the impracticality of living Horcruxes. (But Nagini’s incredible lifespan mitigates some of that issue.)
But things get even grosser: Since Harry, not Voldemort, is the Christ figure in the series, Babymort’s conception cannot have been immaculate. If Nagini is his mother, then there has to be a father in the picture. Look at the passage quoted above: Everything Voldemort says about Pettigrew, as well as the juxtaposition of “Wormtail was able to follow instructions” very close in the text to “a little help from my dear Nagini,” seems to point to at least part of the original theory being right. If Nagini is Babymort’s mother, then Pettigrew is still his father. And I categorically refuse to let my imagination go any further than that because I need a healthy dose of Obliviate right now as is.
Is It Possible?
Can this really be what Jo intended? In a children’s book, no less? I would say that the evidence points to “yes.” When Jo was on PotterCast in 2007, she made a very interesting comment about this:
But I did really think it through. There are two things that I think are too horrible, actually, to go into detail about. One of them is how Pettigrew brought Voldemort back into a rudimentary body. Because I told my editor what I thought happened there, and she looked as though she was going to vomit.
Presumably, Jo’s editor is not an unusually delicate person; she signed off on horrific things like Bathilda Bagshot’s rotting corpse without issue. If this got such a visceral reaction, it must have been bad. The Bertha Jorkins theory would still qualify, but this is even worse.
Anyone who has read Career of Evil knows that Jo’s mind can go to some truly terrifying places when she’s writing. There is even precedent for implied bestiality in the Potterverse: Aberforth and his goats (which are also in Goblet of Fire; Jo must have been in a very odd headspace while writing that book).
Basically, I feel like this theory’s validity is what the whole question of Voldemort knowing will hinge on. If Babymort was born of Nagini, then it’s pretty clear he knows about her human past. If not, it could go either way. The other evidence (Voldemort knowing Nagini’s name, having “control” over her, etc.) can all be explained away by his use of Parseltongue. He claims to hate half-breeds like werewolves, but I’ve argued before that his bigotry is a means to power rather than a deeply held conviction. But there’s no explaining away his use of Nagini as a surrogate mother that would be conclusive.
Unfortunately, we do not have enough information to know how cognizant snake-Nagini is of her human past and how much she consents to all of what happens to her in the 1990s. That’s a can of worms that will have to be addressed after the film comes out. But in the meantime, Crimes of Grindelwald just got a LOT more interesting in how it ties back to the Potter series.
¹ One example is Voldemort’s statement that “her mind and body were both damaged beyond repair. She had now served her purpose. I could not possess her. I disposed of her.” Another is the fact that Voldemort’s resurrection potion technically contained “bone of the father” twice over – Tom Riddle, Sr.’s bone and the bones in Wormtail’s hand. Or even that Voldemort indirectly killed Wormtail in Deathly Hallows, keeping up his patricidal habits.