Ron Weasley, Parselmouth? I Can Explain
by Lorrie Kim
‘It’s what you did to open the locket,’ he told Harry apologetically. ‘I had to have a few goes to get it right, but,’ he shrugged modestly, ‘we got there in the end.'” (DH 623)
But before you dismiss this detail as ridiculous or overly convenient, consider that maybe it wasn’t mere mimicry on Ron’s part. It’s worth delving into the logic behind Ron’s surprise ability.
Harry didn’t always speak Parseltongue either.
How does a person come to speak Parseltongue?
You can be born with the ability, like the Gaunts. Or as we see from Harry’s rare example, a Parselmouth can transfer the ability to you if you contain a bit of their soul.
But Harry wasn’t always able to speak Parseltongue on command. He didn’t even know his exchanges with snakes were in a nonhuman language until Ron told him after the dueling club in their second year. When he and Ron were trying to get into the Chamber of Secrets that year, it was Ron who suggested that Harry try Parseltongue. Harry found that his speech switched automatically to Parseltongue only when he was faced with a snake.
‘Harry,’ said Ron. ‘Say something. Something in Parseltongue.’
[…] ‘Open up,’ he said.
He looked at Ron, who shook his head.
‘English,’ he said.” (CoS 300)
Harry needed Ron’s perspective to understand what he was going through. With this help, Harry then developed an original nonverbal spell – magic that could be reproduced on command with the correct procedure – that could activate his latent Parseltongue so he could use it at will.
Harry looked back at the snake, willing himself to believe it was alive. If he moved his head, the candlelight made it look as though it were moving.
‘Open up,’ he said.
Except that the words weren’t what he heard; a strange hissing had escaped him.” (CoS 300)
This is an early demonstration of Dumbledore’s last message to Harry at King’s Cross: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (DH 723). Harry can cast magic by recreating mental states associated with previous instances of that magic. As with most of the magic we see in the series, the raw ability can be developed with guidance and practice.
As Ron said to Harry about Parseltongue, “I had to have a few goes to get it right.” That’s what it took for Harry too.
You need to really mean it.
We see in the series that mental state affects how well spells work.
Intent matters: Harry got the Stone out of the mirror because he wanted to save others.
Concentration matters: To Apparate, you must focus on destination, determination, and deliberation.
Urgency matters: As Harry learned from Bellatrix, for some spells, “you need to really mean it” (DH 593).
When Harry first opened the Chamber, he knew Ginny’s life was in danger. When Ron opened the Chamber, he was fighting to end a war. They were both motivated.
You don’t have to be the Chosen One to fight a tyrant.
‘It’s what you did to open the locket,’ he told Harry apologetically.”
In a bit of painful and consistent characterization, Ron explains himself to Harry “apologetically,” as if trying out magic he learned from Harry is somehow a form of copying. Of course, Harry has no such qualms and declares the whole thing “genius” (DH 623).
Ron has heard Harry speak Parseltongue before, but it’s no wonder that the instance that stands out in his memory is Harry opening the locket: That was the opening move in Ron’s battle to destroy it. By that time, Ron already had experience with that part of Voldemort’s soul. As Hermione explained, the soul fragment in a Horcrux “can flit in and out of someone if they get too close to the object” (DH 105). Wearing the locket Horcrux affected Ron so strongly that he abandoned Harry and Hermione; Ron had already overcome the locket’s influence on him by returning. During his final fight with the locket though, we see a moment when Voldemort’s soul fragment actually possesses Ron. Riddle’s eyes in the locket “gleamed scarlet,” and just before Ron stabbed the locket, as Harry yelled out Ron’s name, “Harry thought he saw a trace of scarlet in [Ron’s] eyes” (DH 376–77).
As second years, Ron had provided reality checks about whether Harry was speaking English or Parseltongue. Similarly, Harry served as an anchor while Ron destroyed the locket, reminding him to stay in the present and hold on to his own reality as well as confront the emotions amplified by the Horcrux.
After Ginny was possessed by Voldemort, she could remember how that felt. The knowledge had changed her. After Ron destroyed the locket Horcrux, he also came to know how it feels to be possessed by Dark magic, to know he has what it takes to overcome it but also to know, forever, its terrible seductive power.
In other words, he gained the knowledge required to work as an Auror.
By the time Ron opens the Chamber with Parseltongue, he has contained a fragment of Voldemort’s soul, and he retains that memory. It has changed him permanently. He’s not merely mimicking when he says “Open” in Parseltongue, racing to bring an end to Voldemort’s tyranny. He knows who he’s fighting and how his language sounds. Like Harry, he has what it takes to recreate the mental conditions of confronting Voldemort within himself.
“Why can’t they help?”
Ron’s story arc shows that the Chosen One doesn’t have to fight evil alone. He can have allies.
Harry was scarred unfairly as a child. He had no choice but to fight.
Ron came to the fight of his free choice after he came of age. We’ve known since the first book, when he chose the role of a knight, that Ron’s defining trait is chivalry, the knightly code of protective honor. It was chivalrous when Ron and Hermione, both of age, chose to share the wearing of the locket Horcrux with Harry. They cared so much about their friend that they accepted damage to their own souls from a Horcrux in order to reduce the harm to Harry and to gain empathy for how he has felt his whole life, burdened by a part of Voldemort. The burden from the locket Horcrux was a bigger shock to Ron than to Hermione and Harry because he had more privilege to lose than they did; he had come of age without losing his parents or having to send them away. He had the privilege of finishing his childhood before choosing his fights, a privilege that some children don’t have but that everyone deserves. By the time he opened the Chamber without Harry and anchored Hermione as she destroyed a Horcrux, he knew what he was doing.
It was Ron who showed Harry how many allies he had during the hunt for the final Horcrux:
Ron turned suddenly to Harry.
‘Why can’t they help?'” (DH 582–83)
It turns out to be untrue that the self-proclaimed heir of Slytherin is so special that only he or his specially anointed ones can dare open the Chamber. Through Ron’s choices, he learned how to prove that this was just a tyrant’s self-aggrandizing propaganda after all. Survivors of childhood trauma don’t have to fight alone. Their friends can learn to understand what they went through and can fight alongside them.