Red Hen Publications

Red Hen Publications — Commentary Collection — Potterverse People Essay: The Ancient & Noble House of Black
Potterverse People

Trying to make the Potterverse make sense since 2003!

There is sufficient oddity connected to the extended family of the Blacks that it seems worthwhile to set an essay aside to try to collect most of those oddities into one place. Not that they don’t spill out into several of the other pieces across both collections as well.

And, for that matter, I suppose that I ought to give an advance warning that the whole exercise of trying to make the Tapestry information make sense, is inherently futile.

Yes, this whole exploration started off based upon the Black Family Tapestry Sketch. I am given to understand that Rowling has changed her mind again regarding the ancestry and lineage of the Noble House of Black. From what I’ve been told, the material on Pottermore has little to do with the original sketch that I used.

And, I rather suspect is usual with Rowling, neither source will altogether line up with what she actually told us in the books.

In all fair warning, this essay is really long. And “graphically enhanced.”You’d best settle in for a longish read. And be prepared to chill. Indeed, this is largely composed of multiple explorations of “what if”. (Apologies for the graphics, I don’t know how well they can actually be read at a size that they could be displayed on the page.)

Admittedly, from where we were standing at the point the Black Family tapestry sketch first made its appearance, the illusion of clarification on certain matters was extremely welcome. And at that point, we also weren’t much inclined to seriously question what Rowling (or Sirius) had to say on the matter up through OotP. We’ve learned better since then.

Unfortunately, that trusting relationship with the author’s statements started breaking down around that point. In February of 2006, JK Rowling took part in a charity auction for a group by the name of Book Aid. As her contribution for this event she donated a sketch which purported to be a portion of the Black family’s genealogical tapestry. As you might expect there was a great deal of interest in this item generated across the fandom. Partial shots of the page were published in a couple of magazines. In one the page was artfully masked by other items, in the other it was carefully greyed out except for a section along one side. These partial views were tantalizing.

And illuminating.

And as frustrating as all get-out.

Which, rather circuitously, brings us to:

A funny thing happened on the road to enlightenment. We seem to have hit a number of potholes concerning the reliability of any information which we had ever been given by Sirius Black.

We already knew that his judgment of character was faulty.

But we were provisionally willing to believe that his grasp of actual facts was still to be accepted. However, post-DHs it is clear that he was a bit of a fantasist. And he typically managed to convince other people that his “likely stories” were true.

Some of his “facts” were that; he was the elder of two brothers, and that he and his younger brother had three female cousins. All slightly older than they. This much, at least, has proven to be truthful.

We were further led to believe that his parents were both still alive when he was sentenced to Azkaban. And that they allegedly died some “ten years ago” from the vantage point of the summer of ’95. After their deaths, the last of family’s House Elves was left alone in the otherwise empty house.

It has now turned out that his mother had, indeed, died some 10 years earlier, acto the tapestry, but Sirius Black’s father Orion had died in 1979. As had Sirius’s younger brother, Regulus, anything up to a full two years before Sirius was bundled off to Azkaban. What is more, their grandfather, and head of the family was still alive at that time, and outlived both of Sirius’s parents, only dying the year that Harry Potter started Hogwarts. Clearly what Sirius implied in OotP about his family history is no longer to be blindly accepted at face value.

He also claimed that his brother was murdered by DEs, and that was not the case at all, either. For that matter, if we take Harry Potter’s reading of it, according to that tapestry Regulus had died in 1980, not 1979.

• • • •

From our first look at the publicly revealed entire tapestry sketch, with the 1979 death date for Regulus, we did not know for certain whether or not Regulus had survived their father. But we at first assumed that he had most probably not, from Sirius’s comment that their father had put every knut he could spare into security spells upon the house. Presumably we were left to conclude that this was due to the belated discovery that the Dark Lord was quite as willing to prey upon purebloods as anyone else, and that being a Black was absolutely no protection.

From what we knew at that point, such a discovery didn’t seem likely to have been made prior to Regulus’s death. But we may have been a bit quick to dismiss the possibility.

We were also told that all of the Black family had traditionally been sorted into Slytherin (yes, including Sirius’s favorite cousin Andromeda), and he states with conviction that his own parents had not been Death Eaters, although they were in sympathy with the kind of sentiments Lord Voldemort had always been reported to stand for. In which case, one has to ask, why weren’t they Death Eaters? Riddle seemed determined to “collect” the scions of every prominent pureblood wizarding family that he could, and turn them all into his own minions. The Blacks would have been a considerable plum, and Tom was very persuasive.

Well, once again the LiveJournalist known as Professor_Mum has provided me with a launching pad to spin theories off from. In the summer of 2006 the two of us and four other online theorists collaborated on a collection of essays concerning what had been going on behind the scenes in ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’. As her contribution, she had extended and revised her Black Family history theories as they relate to the manner in which the various connections of the Black family seem to have intersected with the ambitions of the former Tom Riddle, usually with unfortunate effect for all parties.

As is usually the case, I spun off from Professor–Mum’s original premise in a slightly different direction.

My own original supposition was that neither of Sirius Black’s parents were of an age to have been thrown into proximity with young Tom Riddle, and so had escaped largely by the good fortune of never having met him at a vulnerable age. But this supposition was thrown into disarray by the Black family tapestry sketch which solidly places both Orion and Walburga Black at Hogwarts during the Riddle era, although Walburga is some 2 years ahead of Tom, and Orion would be a couple of years after him. At present we have no obvious explanation for their ability to hold out against his influence. Unless their resistance was due to pure snobbishness based upon what they remember of his poverty and Muggle upbringing. Which is always a possibility among such a narrow-minded lot of hardliners as the Blacks have been depicted.

However, the tapestry sketch also raises the rather intriguing question regarding the dog who did not bark in the parlor.

Or, to put bluntly: why did Sirius Black not tell us that his own parents were never the heads of the family at all? Orion Black died in 1979. Walburga in 1985. Orion’s father, Arcturus Black outlived both of them, to die in 1991, the year that Harry Potter started Hogwarts.

• • • •

It isn’t that Sirius doesn’t mention Arcturus at all. He contemptuously discards his grandfather’s Order of Merlin, First Class, with the sneering comment that the honor just means that that worthy gentleman had effectively bought it by giving the Ministry a great deal of gold. We do not know for certain that this was Grandfather Arcturus, rather than Grandfather Pollux, his mother’s father, but one assumes that Pollux’s awards, if any, would not be in this particular house. His artifacts would have passed into the keeping of his own sons and their children.

And it really is difficult to accept that Grandfather Arcturus was not a member of the household at #12 Grimmauld Place, for it is obvious that — if only due to the presence of the Family tapestry — that the house is the “official residence” of the Head of the Black Family, which Arcturus quite clearly was.

And yet Sirius Black says nothing of any of this. Until the tapestry sketch was made public, in February 2006 we hadn’t a hint.

Well, it belatedly occurred to me that although Arcturus was the Head of the family, and #12 had almost certainly been the house in which he raised his own children, if his wife, Melania, had already passed on, Arcturus might not have chosen to continue to live with his son — and his son’s shrieking wife and their squalling infants.

He might choose to live with his (apparently childless) daughter, Lucretia, instead.

Indeed, it is not impossible that Lucretia might have been widowed by that point as well. Her husband was one of the Prewett family. We do not know whether it was only the brothers Gideon and Fabian who were targeted by DEs, or if her husband Ignatius might have been as well. Or, Ignatius may simply have gotten along very well with his father-in-law.

But this still requires a blatant case of fan-wanking to make it fit.

We’ve other problems with the tapestry, however: ones which even more blatantly contradict canon. In GoF Sirius had also claimed that, while still at Hogwarts, Severus Snape had been part of a “gang of Slytherins”, who had nearly all gone on to become Death Eaters. He listed among them “the Lestranges”, and identified them as a married couple, now in Azkaban. Interestingly, he did not name Lucius Malfoy as being a part of that group. (Nor his cousin Narcissa, nor his own younger brother Regulus, nor Barty Crouch Jr, etc. etc.)

It is possible that Black was not listing all the members of that particular group, but only that group’s members who had later turned out to be convicted as Death Eaters (although he did mention Avery, and did not mention Mulciber — who was convicted — unless that was Mulciber’s father). Snape may not be the only one of that “gang” who had never come under official suspicion and remained unmentioned.

And yet, Sirius absolutely did not include Malfoy — who had at least been arrested as a DE. Even if he did get off on an Imperius defense. As had Avery, who was mentioned.

Given the conflicting revelations sprung upon us since that statement was made, even the statement in itself now seems somewhat off-kilter.

For one thing, by the middle of OotP it was clear that everyone, including Sirius Black, knew as a matter of course that Severus Snape had been associated with Lucius Malfoy for yonks. So why hadn’t he mentioned Malfoy the previous year? Snape hung about with Malfoy, Malfoy was a Death Eater, even if he was acquitted like Avery, why wasn’t he on the list? (And why wasn’t Mulciber? I really do think Rowling was thinking of Evan Rosier in DHs, and misspoke.)

Well, given the general hostility between Lucius and Bellatrix, what now seems most likely is that Malfoy was not a part of that particular group of kids. By which I mean the group that included Bellatrix. Malfoy had his own group. His group was a rival to Bella’s. And that Snape and Malfoy may have connected at some point after Snape’s brief association with Bellatrix, and her circle.

Assuming that we can take Sirius Black at his word that Snape had hung around with the Lestranges at Hogwarts at all. What seems more and more likely to me, is that Sirius has conflated Snape’s association with people who he knows to have become Death Eaters after Hogwarts into an association among these people while at Hogwarts. Even if they were not actually at Hogwarts at the same time. I do not think that it is only happy memories which Sirius Black may have managed to misplace over the previous dozen or so years.

And at that, thinking back to when they were all at school, it may not have occurred to Sirius Black to retroactively associate Malfoy with the “future DEs” because Malfoy’s family was not “connected”. Sirius Black has every reason to know that you can be the very worst sort of pureblood-obsessed twerp without being a Death Eater. And if Abraxus Malfoy was not a schoolmate of Tom Riddle’s it is looking very much as if the Malfoys would NOT have been connected. Riddle will use members of the older generation, but he does not attempt to enlist them into his following. He goes after their children, instead.

And Sirius Black may not have learned (for sure) of Lucius’s involvement with Lord Voldemort until after his own escape from Azkaban. Malfoy, after all, had not been sent to Azkaban.

Sirius does admit that much of the information he gave us in GoF was information he only pieced together after his escape. He was also inside within a day or two after Voldemort fell. He would have completely missed the whole DE trials period and Malfoy’s Imperius defense. Only learning of it later. From those who didn’t get off.

But nearly all of the timing of his statements now looked a tad screwy. And they were completely hosed by Rowling’s endorsement of the 1960 birth date for the Marauder cohort. In fact, in view of that, the whole timeline requires a retrofit. Indeed, more than one.

• • • •

The three Black sisters — Sirius Black’s cousins — are identified as Bellatrix, Andromeda, and Narcissa. Early in HBP Bellatrix was stated as being the eldest of the sisters — although this hardly seems possible if she was indeed a part of any group whose Hogwarts days were shared by Severus Snape. Certainly if shared by a Snape who was born in 1960.

Another glaringly non-negotiable stumbling block regarding this issue, is that Andromeda’s daughter, Nymphadora Tonks, by the internal evidence of statements actually made in the text, must be at least 22 years of age when we meet her in the summer of 1995, before Harry’s 5th year.

We have Tonks’s own statement that she had only qualified as an Auror the year earlier. (Right about the time her mentor/trainer Alastor Moody retired to go and teach at Hogwarts, to oblige his friend Dumbledore.) And, in the same book, from Minerva we later learn that Auror training takes three years.

We also learn from Minerva that the Aurors had accepted no new applicants for the past three years, meaning that Tonks was one of the last group of candidates to be accepted into the program and could have begun her training no more recently than four years earlier. In that case, if Tonks, like most students was either closing on, or just past, her 18th birthday when she finished Hogwarts, and started Auror training immediately after finishing at Hogwarts, she would have to be around 22 at the opening of OotP. Any flexibility we have within these constraints might support her being older than 22. But not younger.

In order to have a 22-year-old daughter in the Summer of ’95 (when we met Tonks), Andromeda Tonks, née Black, would at the very least have needed to have married Ted Tonks immediately after finishing Hogwarts, and had her daughter no more than a year later. Most students, as stated above, are right about 18 when they complete Hogwarts. 18 + 22 + 9 months = 40 or 41 years of age in the Summer of 1995. Which no longer quite fits.

In short, she would need to be the at least the same age that Lucius Malfoy is stated as being in the Prophet article that ran in September of ’95. Or at any rate to have been in the same year as Malfoy. If not older. And yet she can’t be, if Bellatrix is the eldest of the sisters and still at school when the Marauder cohort strted. Yet Sirius claims that Bellatrix was still in school when Snape was there.

From these calculations, and accepting the 1959 birth date that I had been claiming for the Marauder’s cohort for years, it appeared that Lucius Malfoy would have already been a 6th year student when Severus Snape started his 1st year at Hogwarts. So if Andromeda is indeed the middle sister, and in the same year as Lucius Malfoy, then Bellatrix can have been no younger than a 7th year when Snape arrived. Despite the rather large spanner that the Black Family tree (below) had just tossed into the works, this constraint still held. With a 1960 birthdate for Snape, it doesn’t.

With this in mind however, what suddenly began to seem very likely is that Sirius’s snide comment about Snape showing up as a 1st year, knowing more curses than half the 7th years, was, in fact, a slap at his own cousin Bellatrix. For she and her friends were a part of that particular crop of 7th years.

But; let’s take a reality check here. Just how often are 11–12-year-olds really a part of gangs of 16–18-year-olds? Was Sirius really giving us the straight story here? Or is he confusing associations formed at Hogwarts with associations formed after Hogwarts? And Echo answers us nothing.

• • • •

The easiest solution would be to simply dismiss pretty much anything Sirius Black had to say on the subject as unreliable. But in the absence of any other solid information to reason from, that leaves us all pretty much in the lurch. And by this time we’ve all invested a fair amount of effort into trying to make it all make sense.

Unfortunately, that cannot be done without editing pretty much all information from all sources, and dismissing a lot of it as unworkable when compared with what we were actually given in canon. And then making such adjustments as necessary to bring it into compliance with the published text. The resulting modifications might be unauthorized, but they are at least not unworkable.

So, in an attempt to resolve this question; given what we’ve seen of Bellatrix, does it sound likely that if a newly arrived, 11-year-old Snape (a “pushing, thrusting young man”?) who was sufficiently full of himself to boast about his homemade hexes she and her friends might have taken him up, and picked his brains? Even Snapes can be a bit naive at the age of 11.

Well, yes, it sort of does. Maybe.

Particularly if she thought she could use it against him later. Bella really doesn’t strike one as being the sort who limits her attacks to “fair targets”.

And he, being all too willing to be taken up by such an influential crowd, and young enough to not know any better, might have been flattered into being very forthcoming. From all accounts, he does certainly seem to have been starved for any kind of favorable attention.

However, Bellatrix and her circle would have known perfectly well that there are no Snapes listed in ‘Nature's Nobility’. And from Bellatrix’s attitude toward Snape once we had a chance to observe both of them, I should think that if anyone in that circle took him up, it wasn’t her.

It seems more likely that Bellatrix disdained the grubby little commoner from the get-go and may have found herself overruled. If so, she may have taken a deal of satisfaction in turning the tables on him.

But, if we are to accept Sirius’s statement at all, he was probably regarded as a mascot more than as a member of that gang. Or as a trained monkey. And I suspect that once Bellatrix (who is the kind of user who gives nothing back) and her confederates thought they had gotten all that was of use from him, they would have dropped the little mongrel, probably with a few choice personal comments from Bella, leaving him smarting and resentful.

And the leaders of that particular group might have all been gone at the end of that year, anyway.

So is Sirius legitimately remembering that Snape had been taken up by that lot again after he finished school himself (if he even was, he seems more likely to have stuck with Malfoy’s rival group). Or is Sirius simply being snotty about a Dark Arts-obsessed little squirt who didn’t know enough not to let himself get taken advantage of by the likes of cousin Bellatrix and her crowd?

And again, Echo answers us nothing.

Lucius Malfoy, who at least has some idea of what qualities are worth cultivating over the long term, might have moved in on Snape after Bellatrix and company had finished with him. As noted above, Snape and Malfoy seem to have been have been widely known to be associated for years. And we get no impression of any love lost between Snape and Bellatrix in the chapter set in Spinner’s End. Or between Bellatrix and Lucius, at any point in the series.

Well, on the day that the Book Aid auction items were made available for viewing prior to the event, as one might expect there were a number of people from fan sites who bought tickets for the viewing and took notes. These notes were posted on the web soon afterwards.

The following chart was adapted from one set of these notes and roughly reproduces the version of the sketch posted on the HP Lexicon at the end of February 2006 (The Lexicon’s version was abruptly modified a year afterwards without explanation).

Black Family Tree Version 1

The seven blasted-off names, as per a report posted on the original HP Lexicon site refer to:

A. Isla Black — blasted off for marrying ‘Muggle’ Bob Hitchens. Since Ted Tonks, who we know from canon is a Muggle-born wizard, is also referred to as a Muggle, this implies that as late as the 1970s, the Black family did not distinguish between ordinary, non-magical Muggles and ‘Muggles’ who are able to channel magic. We don’t know which sort Hitchens was.

B. Phineas (Jr) — blasted off for supporting Muggle rights.

C. Marius — a Squib.

D. Cedrella — blasted off for marrying blood-traitor Septimus Weasley. It should be noted that these are almost certainly Arthur Weasley’s parents. Sirius states that he and Arthur are 2nd cousins once removed. (Sirius & Arcturus = brothers; Sirius’s son Arcturus & Arcturus’s daughter Cedrella = first cousins; Arcturus’s son Orion & Cedrella’s son Arthur = 2nd cousins: Orion’s son Sirius = 2nd cousin once removed.)

E. Alphard — blasted off posthumously for leaving money to disowned Sirius Black.

F. Sirius — blasted off for running away from home.

G. Andromeda — blasted off for marrying ‘Muggle’ Ted Tonks.

Unfortunately we have rather a lot of problems with this chart. Some might turn out to be transcription errors which are not in the original, others however are almost certainly a clear case of Rowling accidentally writing down the wrong numbers. Or of just not giving a damn.

For example; I seriously doubt that Rowling intended to present us with two new fathers aged 13. In the first posted version we had a 3rd, aged 14. That one was corrected almost immediately afterwards, so was probably just a transcription error.

Original Example 1 (now dismissed): This one may have been my error, although I am not the only person to have noted it. It could have been one of those mistakes which are not noticed until the file is posted, and then quickly corrected and replaced, but not before a few people have seen it. But, when I first saw the posted sketch, I was quite certain that it read: Arcturus Black (1901-1991) and his daughter Lucretia (1915-1992). Lucretia’s birth year on the Lexicon’s chart now clearly reads 1925. This throws us a curve, since it makes it very clear that Lucretia’s brother, Orion Black was indeed at Hogwarts in Tom Riddle’s day, two years younger than Tom, and of a perfect age to hero-worship him. And yet evidently he didn’t continue to do so, if he ever had. Sirius Black made it quite clear that while his own parents were in perfect sympathy with what Voldemort claimed to stand for, they were not among his followers.

Example 2: Pollux Black (1912-1990) and his daughter Walburga (1925-1985)

Example 3: Cygnus Black (1938-1992) and his eldest daughter Bellatrix (1951–) It should be noted that the Lexicon has since replaced Cygnus’s dates with those displayed in the film version of OotP. Which are 1929–1979, duplicating the dates of his cousin Orion. I do not know where the film designers got those dates. (From Orion’s, evidently.) But you would think that if Rowling were correcting screwy dates, she would correct all of the screwy dates. But no one has.

Rumored transcription errors were that Walburga’s birthdate is supposed to be 1935 rather than 1925, which would certainly resolve the problem of her father having been 13 when she was born, but would then render the portrait of Madam Black, described in canon as that of an old woman, into the portrait of a woman who died at the age of 50. Which does not qualify as old, even among Muggles. And her brother Cygnus would still be fathering Bellatrix at the age of 13. (And fathering subsequent daughters at the ages of around 15 and 17.) Which I doubt is socially approved, even if being a Black does make you “nearly royalty”.

I also heard it reported that Cygnus’s birthdate was supposed to be 1930 rather than 1938, which would certainly resolve the problem of Bellatrix being born when her father was in his 3rd year at Hogwarts, but this would not let his father off the hook of having apparently managed the same feat.

From the layout of the chart, Walburga is clearly intended to be older than Cygnus. So it would also be unacceptable to show a Walburga born in 1935 placed in the elder spot above her brother, born in 1930. Although we could just have a formatting glitch wherein the point was to get Walburga to the left side of the group in order to facilitate showing the marriage line to her cousin Orion.

And while we are on the question of formating glitches: permit me to direct your attention to the birthdates of Phineas Nigelus’s four children whose births on the chart go from 1877 to 1889 and then leap backward to 1886 and then continue to recede to 1884. Such an irrational order as oldest-youngest-2nd youngest-2nd oldest can hardly have been intentional, either. All other lines and groups read oldest to youngest, from left to right, as is proper and traditional. The birthdates of Phineas’s 3rd and 5th child appear to have been accidentally switched. This may have contributed something to the muddle that has Pollux fathering his eldest child when barely in his teens.

The LiveJournalist known as Swythyv was convinced that this layout was because Phineas’s 2nd son’s marriage produced only daughters, and that the entire layout of the tapestry is adjusted to push the marriages which produce only daughters to the right-hand side of the chart, leaving marriages which produced sons on the left. But while certainly possible, that would mean that the family listings must continue to shift around until after all the family members’ deaths, otherwise how would the chart be able to anticipate the sex of future children? Nor does this explain why the son whose marriage produced only daughters should be listed after the marriage of a daughter, whose children are not even named. I tend to doubt that this is the solution.

Indeed there are so many bugs and glitches on this chart that one has to wonder whether all the screwy numbers might be intended as a joke, and that we are supposed to be regarding it as a “how many things are wrong in this picture?” exercise. And that’s even before we learned of the 1960 birth date or the information given us in Kreachur’s tale.

Nor do the anomalies stop here. Rowling informed us all the way back in the year 2000 that wizards have a much longer life expectancy than Muggles. But she certainly does not seem to be able to bring herself to depict any of them actually managing to do it with numbers to back the statement up.

• • • •

Well, first off, let’s sort out the worst of the formatting glitches. There is no way that a viable family tree is going to list the children of a family in a randomized birth order.

I’m going to assume that Rowling really did mean for Arcturus to be the third of Phineas Nigelus’s sons, and Cygnus the forth, as she indicated by the birth dates she gave them. I will provisionally assume that she bullied the listing for Cygnus’s descendants to the left in order to get Walburga’s name closer to Orion’s.

I have no idea why she forced Arcturus’s line of descent all the way to the right. But the fact that the chart did not start listing any descendent’s of daughters by name until there simply were no living descendants of sons that the chart was able to track, means that such measures were likely to be unnecessary. So the first order of business is to re-arrange things enough for Arcturus’s and Cygnus’s lines to switch places.

That makes it possible to standardize the placement of the names of those who married into the family to the right of the names of their partners, as well.

So. Below we have the line of descent from Phineus Nigelus Black. Same information as above, but more conventionally organized.

Black Family Tree Version 2

Although it is not precisely an error, Phineas Nigelus appears to have been a couple of years younger than what Rowling had long ago told us about the age of Albus Dumbledore. (Rowling later adjusted Dumbledore’s age too, shaving off some 35 years.) Phineas may have been Headmaster some decades earlier, suggesting that he may have gone into education as a career as a comparatively young man, and didn’t live nearly as long. I suppose this might explain his portrait’s extremely familiar, rather patronizing manner with Albus, if they had been at school together, and even more so if Phineas was the Headmaster who actually hired Albus. Frankly, I am inclined to think that the multiple glitches in the dates of the lower half of the chart are primarily because Rowling set her starting point too late to be able to fit everything in properly. She filled in the dates top to bottom, instead of bottom to top, as she needed to.

Second observation: we were told in July 2005, right after HBP was released, that James Potter’s parents were quite elderly, “even by wizarding standards” when he was born, and that they died of natural causes when James was quite young. In that case, if the Dorea and Charlus Potter shown in the sketch are intended to be identified as James Potter’s parents, Dorea died at the not exactly ripe old age of 57, and (if that single son of hers is James Potter) would have borne her son at the age of about 40. Which isn’t all that old to be having a baby even by Muggle standards. Although it is rather late to be having a first baby.

We also seem to be missing Walburga’s cousin, Arminta Meliflua who was lobbying the Wizengamot to legalize Muggle hunting. Although, if she was a cousin descended from one of the Black daughters, and her own family name was not Black, (and/or Meliflua was her married name) she might be one of the four “d” notations which descend from the Burke, Longbottom and Crouch connections. Or, more probably, Sirius is carelessly referring to cousins of any degree, and the name he was pointing out was in an entirely different part of the room, and possibly representing a connection of several generations back.

But, to the fans in general, the most intractable contradiction which we can see here is the bombshell that Bellatrix Black was listed as having been born in 1951.

Sirius Black quite unequivocally informed us in the course of GoF that two of the kids from the “gang of Slytherins” that Snape hung out with at Hogwarts were the Lestranges, identified as “a married couple” currently in Azkaban. There is no way that he was not referring to his cousin Bellatrix and her husband.

There is also no way that Bellatrix Black could have been at Hogwarts at the same time as Severus Snape at all if she was born in 1951. Not even if she was born in December. Not unless she had to repeat a year.

Not even if Snape was born in ’59, as I had been contending for years, in defiance of the Lexicon (which claimed that the whole Marauder cohort was born in 1960. I do not know whether it still did so after the sketch came out). Rowling has since endorsed the Lexicon’s original calculations, in all defiance of rudimentary arithmetic.

Rowling’s done this before. This is the same kind of stunt as the Weasley calendar muddle. She appears to be, once again, arbitrarily spacing people’s kids 2 years apart (in this case the Black sisters), having forgotten that a mechanical progression of 2 years apart doesn’t add up to what else she has already told us about these people. The progression may work as a schematic but it doesn’t hold up to closer examination.

But, since this particular issue is all fairly peripheral to the story she is telling, she never took the time to go in and fine-tune it.

In my view; for purposes of theorizing, published canon invariably trumps quasi-canon. Frustrating as it may be for us, Rowling is allowed to make any number of minor errors in statements made off the top of her head in interviews (where she doesn’t have access to her notes). She is allowed to make minor arithmetical mistakes in her own peripheral notes. And we are allowed to dismiss these mistakes, as mistakes. I think that a sketch fired off to be donated to a charity auction can be ranked along with part of her peripheral notes. We probably ought to accept the relationships represented. We don’t have to accept the dates when they contradict published canon.

What is in the books takes precedence over things that are not in the books. In the books, the Lestranges, “a married couple now in Azkaban” were at least briefly at school at the same time as Severus Snape.

And, I am going to at least make a stab at attempting to hold to that. Even though I have been forced to recalculate everything to manage it. Twice.

But I am willing to dismiss it in a heartbeat the moment it becomes untenable, since I am no longer sure that I’m willing to believe anything that we were ever told by Sirius Black.

When I was still calculating from a 1959 birth year for the marauder cohort, if Bella had been born in (the fall of) ’52, rather than ’51, the whole problem would just go away. She would have been born after September 1, and had to wait the extra year to start school. I suspect an Autumn birthday for Bellatrix is probably the case, regardless.

At the other end of this equation, if we dismissed the statements from interviews and Rowling’s official website (i.e., things NOT in the books) which are obviously worded in a manner to suggest that the information is inexact, it goes away again. Rowling states on the official site that Sirius Black was “around 22” when he was locked up. This would have established his birth year as 1959 if it had been a firm statement. But it isn’t one. It is an inexact statement.

Even more obviously inexact was her original statement that Snape was “35 or 36”, which was made in a Q&A session of an interview a few months after GoF was released back in 2000. Since this is the statement that started this whole caper and was the basis for just about all of our calculations up until February 2006, many of us were understandably reluctant to turn loose of it, but there is no question but that that this statement is unclear and inexact. (As also has since turned out the be the statement that Albus was 150, and that Minerva was a “sprightly 70”, at least if you are prepared to accept anything posted on Pottermore. I am not. I will at least consider statements and postings made on the old Lightning Source website, however.)

If we recast both of these statements as being “close but no cigar” and adjustable by a year or so in either direction, then we have the Marauders cohort born in 1958, rather than 1959. The Lexicon and I would both be wrong. So big deal. One would like to think we are both mature enough to cope with that.

Ergo: the cohort would have started Hogwarts in the Autumn of ’69, and finished with the class of ’76. The Pensieve junket we witnessed would have taken place in June, 1974.

And up to the middle of DHs there was absolutely nothing in the books to contradict this reading. On the chart, the only thing that might have contradicted it, Sirius Black’s own dates, are inaccessible since he is represented by a burn mark. So we had no contradiction on the chart, either.

Unless Rowling told us differently in the course of book 7, this was the reading which I was prepared to be using for all of my future interpretations.

Well. She did.

Carved in stone, even.

• • • •

So, my original exercise in recalculation (i.e., the Marauder cohort with a birth year of ’58) went: Bellatrix, born in the Autumn of ’51 would be one of the older 7th years at the time the Marauders were Firsties. Andromeda, anything up to a year and a half younger (no more than that. Her daughter still had to have been born before the end of August ’73) is a either a 6th or a 5th year and depending on when her birthday is, Narcissa is a 4th or a 3rd year. I suspect she was more probably 4th year, otherwise she would still have been at Hogwarts when the Pensieve junket we witnessed took place, and I don’t really think she was. Under these new calculations Lucius Malfoy is a 5th year when Snape started Hogwarts, and remained accessible until the end of Snape’s 3rd year. (With the 1960 birth date he is rendered a 7th year, like Bellatrix.)

There were now 5 years between the Marauder cohort’s finishing at Hogwarts and Voldemort’s first fall. Frankly, I thought this worked even better than my earlier calculations based on the 1959 birthdates. It gives everybody ample time to defy Voldemort 3 times and get into position for any developments both before and after the Prophecy was made and turned loose to do its damage. Even if you opt for the reading that the Prophecy took place at the date of Harry and Neville’s conception, around Halloween 1979. Which I now do, although this seems to be a minority reading and was never proved either incorrect, or otherwise.

Under these calculations, Snape was 23 when he took up his teaching career, and 37 at the end of GoF, rather than the 35 or 36 that Rowling claimed. (So big deal.) Sirius was 23 when he was sent to Azkaban. James’s parents (if they were Dorea and Charlus Potter) lived until the year after he had finished Hogwarts and he was orphaned by about the age of 19. James and Lily were no less tragically young to be murdered at the age of barely 23 than they would have been at barely 22. I could not see any glitches introduced to the continuum by moving the Marauder cohort’s birth dates forward the additional year.

Regardless of when the cohort was born, the Prophecy still had to have been made between the end of 1979 and some point early in 1980. These days, as I say, I am more inclined to believe that it was made soon after Halloween 1979, at roughly the time of the child foretold’s conception.

This last detail is a possibility I had not seriously considered up to some time late in 2005, but one which I now consider fairly convincing, since it offers better motivations for various subsequent events related to Tom Riddle’s actions of which we have been told.

By recalculating the birth year to 1958 we don’t even lose the minor point that if Quirrell, who from his own statements had clearly been at Hogwarts early enough to have seen something of the Snape vs. Potter conflict, was still in school when Snape started teaching, then consequently he was too young to have ever actually been a Death Eater. We can still fit that reading in, if his 1st year was their 7th year.

We still even have Molly safely out of Hogwarts before the willow was planted, since Bill’s birth in November 1970 (as it seemed) suggested that she would have finished no later than the class of ‘69, which would have been at the start of the summer before the Marauder cohort showed up.

• • • •

Which brings me to the February 2007 modification to the Lexicon’s version of the tapestry sketch, in which the dates for Cygnus Black, the 3 sisters’ father, had abruptly been adjusted to 1929–1979. Duplicating those of his cousin Orion’s.

I do not know why the film designers settled on exactly those numbers. But I do not consider the films to be canon, in any case. Films are effectively authorized and very expensive fanfic.

The original birth year of 1938 was obviously a problem, resulting in one of the 13-year-old fathers on the original chart. But it also appeared to be intended to make it clear that Cygnus Black could not have been at Hogwarts at the same time as Tom Riddle. To move his brthdate forward to 1929 not only puts him squarely in the same year as his cousin Orion, but makes him only a couple of years younger than Riddle and also of an age to hero-worship him. Maybe that was the idea. I do not know.

The reason for the change in the death date is less immediately obvious, but more internally necessary. Born in 1929, Cygnus Black could still have easily lived to 1992 as originally stated. The only justification that I can think of for moving his death date forward would be to resolve the otherwise intractable question of why Sirius Black inherited the house. For it ought otherwise to have passed to Cygnus upon Arcturus’s death. It does not explain why the death was moved all the way up to 1979, however. It needed only to be moved up earlier than 1991. Nor can I see any reasonable point to be made in assigning a 3rd Black death to that particular year. It merely proposes a mystery which we already know to be bogus.

The last obvious glitch in the chart is also the most problematic when dealing with the official chronology of the story arc. And this one directly contradicts information that occurs in canon.

The contradiction is that in OotP it is openly stated that Regulus Black’s death was noted as being “some 15 years before” from the vantage point of August, 1995.

As you can see, the death date recorded on the chart for Regulus Black is 1979, which is not 15 years earlier, but 16. Even though, in my view, canon virtually always trumps non-canon, until Rowling finished the series I was inclined to just make note of the contradiction and leave it alone. It was textually inaccurate, but there was a real chance that Rowling had since decided to make use of that ’79 death date for some purpose of her own. She has misspoken or changed her mind about such things before. We have the Flints to prove it. This could have been another one.

In the event, it turned out just to be yet another indication of unclear thinking, and an inability to count. For the purposes of this essay and the rest of the collection I will continue to assume that Harry Potter can recognize the difference between 1995 and 1980 as being 15 years. Even if Rowling can’t.

But. Well. Just for kicks, in the event that the chart was offered in the spirit of a puzzle, the following is a modification of the Black Family tapestry to resolve the glitches, both numeric and implied by previous statements made either in the text of the books or by Rowling when asked questions about the characters, and to facilitate interpretations of what is going on in what Rowling has shown us of these characters. At least as such matters stood circa HBP.

It is absolutely NOT authorized, and is a totally bogus exercise. (And I very much doubt that there is a prize!) So do not take it as official in any way, shape, or form. But it does resolve a lot of the glitches.

Black Family Tree Version 3

In the bottom two rows, those representing Sirius Black and Harry Potter’s generations, the only adjustment made was to record Regulus Black’s death as taking place in 1980. Othewise those rows are untouched. Those are generations which are still actively in play in the course of the series. Consequently, I did not think that it was a good idea to mess with them. Although it was very tempting to pull Belltrix’s birth year up to ’53, and Narcissa’s to ’57.

The 2nd row above; that of Sirius Black’s parents’ generation I have done a partial retrofit. I left Walburga’s birthdate alone and pushed Lucretia and Orion’s birthdates back a decade. This makes Orion a few years older than Walburga. Making him older than his wife was not the issue since there are plenty of marriages where the wife is slightly older than the husband. The adjustment also permits him to live to the age of 60, which seemed reasonable. But that was also not my objective.

My objective was that this adjustment gets him out of Hogwarts by the time Riddle arrived there. Walburga was still there, a year or two ahead of Riddle, but young Riddle, who seems to have about as much respect for women as his grandfather Marvolo and the Weasley twins, may have categorically dismissed witches as desirable followers (until beautiful Bellatrix came along and refused to be left out, and Amycus wouldn’t join without his sister). If Sirius can say with confidence that his own parents were never Death Eaters, and yet agreed with all of Riddle’s views, then it is difficult to see how Sirius’s father might have gone through Hogwarts with Tom and not chosen to follow him. Tom was very persuasive.

Unless, as I’ve said already, Tom’s poverty was the sticking point. Which I suppose it could have been. They were a snobbish lot, the Blacks. And if Walburga, as a girl, was anything like her portrait, Riddle would probably not have wanted her as a follower.

In any case, none of these considerations are really required to deal with actual internal clanks. But the adjustment to Cygnus’s dates are.

Cygnus’s birth date I pushed back five years, to 1933. This resolves the problem of Cygnus allegedly fathering children when barely into his teens. I really have heard that the birthdate here was supposed to have been 1930, and that 1938 was an error. I have adjusted the date to 1933 however..

Rowling did not appear to intend that Cygnus should have been a part of Riddle’s Hogwarts “generation”. A birth date of 1938 would not see him into Hogwarts until 1949 at the earliest. A 1933 birthdate would not see him into Hogwarts before 1944, and if born after September 1, not until 1945, after Riddle would have left the previous June. With Bellatrix born in ’51, even in the Autumn, the timing might be faintly embarrassing to the family. He would still be a very young father, at 18. But wizards are of age at 17, and he and Druella Rosier may have made a run-away match of it as soon as they were out of Hogwarts (or even during their last Easter break). Hogwarts is in Scotland. They could have legally married in Hogsmeade on any Hogwarts Saturday if they so chose.

They could have even done this in 6th year after both turned 17, and dropped out of school. In fact, I think it quite possible they did. It’s not like either of them needed N.E.W.T.s to get a job.

(We can also always pretend that the 2nd 3 in 1933 only looked like an 8, but having seen Rowling’s handwriting on some of the Easter eggs from her official site, the pretense is not particularly convincing.)

The death date I left at the Lexicon’s adjusted retrofit date of 1979, which someone officially involved with the project (although we’ve no idea who) seems to think is more reasonable than what was on the silly sketch when Rowling first released it. Upon consideration, there turns out to be more to this particular equation than just the matter of who inherits the house. There is also the issue of the tapestry having recorded Draco Malfoy by name. I do not think that it would have done so if there had still been any living male Black, apart from Arcturus’s generation that it could trace. With Cygnus and Regulus dead, and Sirius burnt off the tapestry and untraceable, the tapestry recorded the next male descendant to be born, even though through a female descent, as the heir presumptive of the house. In any case, Cygnus’s death in ’79 with Regulus’s the year afterward, would have given Arcturus Black, Sirius’s grandfather, adequate time to make changes to his will before his own death in ’91.

I left Orion’s death in 1979. We got no indication from Kreachur as to whether Reggie outlived his father, but the possibility he that did may have something to do with his becoming a DE in the first place.

We do not know much about Walburga’s brothers. Alphard (who was a family member in good standing all his life, and was only blasted off the tapestry posthumously for leaving his sister a nastygram in his will, by taking sides with his nephew) might even have been in Riddle’s own year. A Cygnus who was born in 1929 could have been only 1 or 2 years behind him (depending on when in the year Cygnus’s birthday lands). In which case we may even have seen those young Black brothers in attendance at that 1940s meeting of the Slug Club. Slughorn only addressed Avery and Lestrange by name. There were at least three other boys in the group who remained nameless. And all of those boys looked to Riddle as their leader. And, with the adjustment of Cygnus’s dates acto the film tapestry, all three of those boys could now have been Blacks.

And, given their family’s position in pureblood circles, any young Black in the school would have gotten Sluggy’s invitation to his Club. Whether they accepted it or not.

Of course, given Sirius’s adversarial stance to everything his family stood for, it is hard to understand how an uncle who had been drawn into the DEs would have chosen to leave the boy any of his money. But there are any number of possible explanations.

In the first place, Alphard may not have been one of Riddle’s admirers. His nose may have been put out of joint by this upstart Riddle (and just who were the Riddles, anyway?). And he may not have been involved in the Slug Club, either (and just who were the Slughorns, when they were at home?) He may have thought that young Sirius was being a fool, and being contrary for the sake of being contrary, but was convinced the boy would straighten out when he was a older. And if Doria and Charlus Potter were James’s parents, the boy had not even really left the family at all. He’d just run off to live with his mother’s aunt.

Or Alphard just left his sister and brother-in-law a nasty message in his will out of pure spite. Most of the Blacks we’ve met seem to have a pronounced spiteful streak and to be perfectly capable of that kind of behavior. Especially since Old Alphie had no descendants of his own to be inconvenienced thereby.

As for Cygnus: it is quite possible that my earlier speculations were off, and he did sign on with Riddle. Plus, his wife was a Rosier. The Rosiers were unquestionably connected to Riddle. Bellatrix, like Avery, her Rosier cousin, Evan, and the Lestrange brothers, could have all been 2nd-generation Death Eaters. That particular “gang” of Sirius’s recollection may have been entirely made up of such. And Malfoy doesn’t seem to have been a part of it.

In the next row above; Phineas’s various grandchildren, Dorea Black Potter’s generation, I globally pushed everyone’s birth years back a decade. This makes things a little awkward with Cedrella being Arthur Weasley’s mother, since at present Arthur doesn’t seem to have been born until around 1950 or so, but it is still not impossible and Arthur may well be the youngest of the three Weasley brothers. This adjustment also eliminated the other 13-year-old father, and let Dorea have her baby (if that baby was indeed James Potter) at the age of 48 (around the same age that Cedrella may have been when she had Arthur). These days, this is still not impossibly old to be having a baby, although it’s really, really late to be having a first baby. In the ’50s or ’60s it would have been extremely uncommon.

With this adjustment it becomes even more probable that the “1s” notation for Callidora and Harfang Longbottom refers to Neville’s grandfather, rendering Phineas Nigelus, who may now be Harry’s great-great grandfather, just as he is Sirius’s, into Neville’s great-great-great grandfather. His Gran, Augusta, would have been born somewhere around the 1920s and would probably have been in school with Minerva. (Who remembers Augusta flunking out of Charms.) Given some of the early marriages that have been hinted at in canon, this notation may have been intended to refer to Neville’s grandfather in any case.

For that matter, just about everyone in canon but Hermione now appears to be a descendant or a connection of Phineas Nigelus Black. Harry and the young Weasleys are all 3rd cousins. Neville is a 3rd cousin once removed. Barty Crouch Jr was (probably) another 3rd cousin. Sirius and James were 1st cousins once removed, Sirius and Arthur 2nd cousins once removed (James and Arthur were 2nd cousins. No removes.). Sirius and Harry were 2nd cousins. Harry and the Black sisters are 2nd cousins, and Draco is another 2nd cousin once removed. We don’t know just where Marcus Flint, Millicent Bulstrode, Vincent Crabbe, Ernie MacMillan, the Rosiers, or the DE Yaxley fit in. Ignatus Prewett may have been Molly’s (presumably rich) uncle. The Burkes are also connected. We don’t know about Borgin.

• • • •

The main problem in the chart is in the line above Pollux which simply does not leave quite enough time between a Cygnus, born in 1889 and Walburga, born in 1925 to insert two standard 20-year generational intervals.

That row: Phineas Nigelus’s childrens’ row, is also the one with the flaky layout and (possible) switched birthdates. Here I pushed back all the birthdates one and a half decades. This was a bit arbitrary and gave us a couple of additional nonagenarians, but it still doesn’t approach Rowling’s claims of exceptionally long wizarding life expectancies. My main reason for doing this is that I wanted to be able to push Phineas’s own generation’s birth dates back two decades.

The adjustment does lessen (although it does not altogether eliminate) the likelihood that Caractacus Burke, of Borgin & Burkes, was Belvina’s father-in-law. It certainly does not eliminate the possibility that he was a brother-in-law or cousin. And now there is also a scant (very scant) possibility that he might have been one of her 2 sons. The Caractacus Burke of the Pensieve memory, described as a “little old man” from Harry’s perspective, was a likeness taken at from some point between 1945–’63 and a son of Belvina’s might have been well into his 50s by that time. He had purchased the Locket from Merope Gaunt in December, 1926, more than 20 years earlier.

Phineas Nigelus Black and his siblings have had their birth dates pushed back a full two decades. The first Sirius Black, who died in childhood, has had his death date also pushed back two decades. Phineas is now a clear generation older than Dumbledore. Possibly born even before Griselda Marchbanks. And if he went into teaching as a career by his early 30s, it is probable that he would have taught Dumbledore, who at that point we still believed would have started Hogwarts some time around the mid–1850s. This would readily explain Phineas’s patronizing manner of speaking of and to Dumbledore even more satisfactorily than if they had been at school together.

Under any reading, unless he became Headmaster fairly early and soon threw the post over in disgust, it is very likely that Phineas was indeed the Headmaster immediately before Dippett, and was probably also the one to have originally hired both Albus Dumbledore and Horace Slughorn. He may have hired Professor Galatea Merrythought as well. Indeed, one of these three was probably hired to fill his own former position upon his elevation to Headmaster. The others (and possibly more of the faculty) were hired to deal with staff turnover. He was, by his great-great grandson’s account, a thoroughly unpopular Headmaster, so there may have been rather a lot of such turnover.

The times would certainly be right for it. Albus’s manner when he went to deliver a Hogwarts letter in the summer of 1938 was such to suggest that he had been at the school long enough to have already developed a proprietary feeling toward it (“My school”). This was only some dozen years after Phineas Nigelus Black’s death.

It would be fun to use such a possibility to get a handle on Slughorn’s dates as well, but we are missing too much data. All we’ve got is that Molly claims that he started teaching at the school around the same time as Dumbledore. (Although this was well before she was born, so this is something she must have heard from someone else. Probably her Aunt Muriel.)

From our glimpse into the Pensieve, Slughorn is indeed younger than Dumbledore. The young Slughorn we saw could have been anywhere from his 30s to his 50s. Whereas the Dumbledore of that period, even factoring in the new information from DHs was around 60.

And all of this is also completely out of the official loop in any case. Like I say, this is absolutely NOT authorized.

These adjustments result in a handful of family members surviving into their 90s, with a couple of early centenarians, but no exceedingly long lives on the order of Griselda Marchbanks’s. In this iteration, several of the Blacks survive longer than the Muggle average, perhaps, but despite my tinkering, most of the family have managed to live no longer than many 20th century Muggles.

Well: Okay. That was certainly fun. But it isn’t necessarily useful.

• • • •

However, once the official canon closed, with the release of DHs it became abundantly clear that Rowling did not have any bombshells to lob at us which would finally make sense of the dates in the row representing Sirius Black, his brother, and his cousins.

Instead, she lobbed us the bombshell of officially endorsing the 1960 birth date for the Marauder cohort (which I suspect she just adopted from the Lexicon without thinking about it). Which makes complete nonsense of the statement that Bellartix (or at any rate “the Lestranges” who are later identified as Bellatrix and her husband) having been a part of the gang of Slytherins that Snape ran with at Hogwarts. There is no way that a Bellatrix who was born in 1951 could have been at school with a Snape born in 1960. Even Rowling ought to be capable of counting up to nine on her fingers. Women were expected to be able to do that back when they weren’t even taught to read.

She further cut the ground out from under herself with Kreachur’s tale in which Regulus Black is stated to have died about a year after having become a DE at the age of 16. i.e., he died at the age of 17. There is no way that a kid born in 1961 is going to still be 17 in 1979. And he certainly won’t still be 17 if you go by the information actually given us in OotP in which we are told that he died in 1980.

So I am not going to continue to hold back from adjusting those dates to the point that we have something that will fit what we are actually told in the books. Even if Sirius Black is completely talking through his hat about Snape and the Lestranges having all been a part of the same group when they were at Hogwarts.

I’m not going to try to patch everything. Dorea Potter’s death is stated as being in 1977 and I am going to leave it there. Even though that appears to contradict Sirius’s tale of how he left home at about 16, moved in with the Potters, then got his own place at 17 but was always welcome back for Sunday dinner. All that really needs to be adjusted there is to conclude that Sirius was determined to spend his uncle Alphard’s legacy by getting a place of his own as soon as he came of age, even though he still had one year left of school. Dorea, and presumably Charlus, now both died during James’s final year of Hogwarts.

For that matter, perhaps James being left an orphan at 17 is what made Lily Evans finally take pity on him.

I debated moving Doria’s birthdate back to 1920, however. A first child at the age of 50, is pretty unusual. But, first children at the age of 46 are not unknown, and that fits what Rowling tells us of Doria’s advanced age when James was born. So I did adjust her birth date to 1914.

However, if one is determined to take Sirius’s word about the Lestranges still being at Hogwarts when he himself started, then Regulus and his cousins’ dates all need to be adjusted to keep Bellatrix in school until the Marauder cohort got there, preferably for Narcissa to be out of school before July 1976 when the Pensieve junket took place, Andromeda to be out of school in time for Tonks to be born in 1973, and for Reggie to die in 1980. At the age of 17.

You will notice that while the intervals between the births of children on the original tapestry vary, at no point does Rowling actually depict births closer than 2 years apart. (I don’t think she remembered (or had adopted) the 1960 date for Sirius, since he was represented by a burn hole). In fact, the only siblings in the whole series who seem to be only one year apart in age are Ron and Ginny. I’m going to preserve this element in my calculations.

So okay. Reggie needs to have died in 1980. And he needs to have died at the age of 17. That’s an easy enough adjustment. His birth year moves from 1961 to 1963, his death date was already adjusted to 1980. He is now three years younger than his brother.

Bellatrix needs to stay in school at least until the end of the Marauder cohort’s first year. Which, with a 1960 birth date, would have been 1972. Since we need to fit three births into the space between Bellatrix and Narcissa, I still postulate that she has an autumn birthday and had to wait an extra year to start. Which moves her birth date to 1953.

Narcissa will have left school by the time of the Pensieve junket. Moving her birth date to 1957 would have her leaving school with the class of 1975. Bellatrix now finishes in ’72, along with Lucius Malfoy. The monkey wrench of that 1960 birth date for Snape makes a hash of several statements regarding his friendship with Lucius made over the course of the series. But then I doubt that by the time she sat down to write DHs Rowling was much concerned with maintaining realistic motivations for anyone’s actions or associations. Or plausible conditions which would support them. It certainly didn’t show in the text. Indeed, she seemed to have decided that the Warner Bros. division with whom she was dealing was the cartoon division and was playing everything for laughs (Snape-shaped hole? Really?).

Well, we might as well propose that Lucius also has an (early) autumn birthday, pushing back his school leaving to ’73, which is not impossible, and makes better sense than that he was already a 7th year when Snape first was Sorted. Particularly if Snape was taken up by Bellatrix’s circle first.

Andromeda’s birth date shifts to 1955. Before Sept 1 in 1955 which would put her into the year directly after Bellatrix’s. Again, probably in the same year as Lucius.

The problem with this of course is that under normal circumstances, she would not be leaving school, before 1973, and her daughter needs to have already been born by then..

Ergo: we must conclude that she and Ted Tonks eloped as soon as she turned 17 in 1972 and that her daughter was born a year later. Andromeda did not remain in school to sit the NEWTs.

And that’s the last I am going to say on the subject. It’s not worth stewing over it any longer.

The Black Family Tree Version 4

• • • •

Which brings us back to the continuing puzzle of how Orion Black managed to escape the persuasiveness of Tom Riddle. Walburga and Lucretia might have been dismissed from Tom’s consideration, from the get-go, merely by being girls. We get ample reason to suspect that Tom Riddle had little use for females apart from their potential function either as victims or as an audience. But according to the original chart, and the one in Lexicon’s modified version, Orion, Cygnus, and (probably) Alphard would have all been at Hogwarts and in Slytherin House at the same time as Tom, and were certainly within a proper age range to have fallen under his influence. And, being Blacks, they would just as certainly have been invited to join the Slug Club as a matter of course.

Or, perhaps the relevant question is how did they manage to escape being drawn into the Death Eaters after Riddle’s return to the wizarding world art the end of his first 10-year exile. They may not have escaped falling under Riddle’s influence while they were all still at Hogwarts. But Orion and Alphard didn’t rejoin after he returned.

Professor_Mum certainly hit upon a viable possibility of how they might have managed to escape. Swythyv improved upon it. I think they’ve got something there. Even if Rowling couldn’t be bothered.

So. What stopped them from following him after he returned?

We all think Arcturus did.

Tom Riddle disappeared from the ww at some point between 1945–’53, after the suspicious death of Madam Hepzibah Smith, and the disappearance of at least two of the valuable artifacts from her extensive collection of wizarding relics.

At some point after the summer term broke up in 1945 (possibly anything up to a handful of years afterward) Albus Dumbledore made an authorized visit to Azkaban, where he interviewed Morfin Gaunt.

Following this interview Dumbledore began to campaign for Morfin’s release. It is all but certain that the recovered memory of the true events of the night the Riddle massacre, which Albus later showed to Harry Potter, was presented as evidence of Gaunt’s innocence. It must somehow be possible for Parseltongue when spoken by a human, to be translated and understood by persons who are not themselves Parselmouths, because most of the conversation in the recovered memory was conducted in Parseltongue. (Rowling did kinda/sorta confirm that this is the case — even though she reneged on the statement almost immediately, without offering any explanation of how Albus managed to understand what that conversation was about.)

Arcturus Black is known to have had at least some Ministry ties. Otherwise he would hardly have known just when a donation of gold would have bagged himself an Order of Merlin, first class. It is not that much of a stretch to postulate that these ties at least went back to the period that Albus was attempting to secure Morfin’s release. Nor even that he may have actually been involved in whatever committee administers Azkaban and was among the people who was permitted to view the evidence.

Evidence that was enough to reveal one Tom Riddle as a halfblood, a thief (of a ring of considerable historical value), and a murderer (of three Muggles).

And Arcturus’s children, Lucretia and Orion were only recently out of Hogwarts, indeed, Orion may even still have been attending Hogwarts. Arcturus might well have thought to ask them whether or not they hadn’t been at school with a young wizard of that name.

He may have also asked them about the Peverill Ring, as well — which Tom had been very happy to flash about during his 5th year at school. And, learning that they had indeed been at school with a Tom Riddle, he would have warned them against any further dealings with the murdering halfblood.

Orion and his cousin Alphard may have been close enough in age and association for Alphard to have been filled in on the matter. Cygnus, who I postulated as being still in his early years at Hogwarts, was somehow not included in these confidences. This was unfortunate. His future wife Druella Rosier was from a family that was unquestionably “connected” to Riddle.

Another Rosier — probably either a brother or a cousin, had accompanied Riddle to Hogsmeade the night Tom asked Dumbledore for the DADA position, soon after his return to the ww a decade later. Cygnus and Druella were already married by then, with a young family, and Cygnus may well have been drawn into the movement by way of his in-laws. The party line, after all, was the same one that he had grown up with, whoever was spouting it.

Orion, however, took his father’s warning to heart. Indeed, once a group of masked terrorists’ activities began to become known, he and his father began taking steps to secure their home from possible DE intrusion. I doubt they knew whether or not Cygnus was involved in Riddle’s activities. He may not have been, or he may have been, and they did not realize it. The party line, like I say, was not one which would have made one’s real affiliations clear. And Regulus may not have been approached until after his father was dead.

• • • •

One suddenly wonders how much input childless Ignatus and Lucretia Prewett’s possible disdain for Lord Voldemort and his activities may have had upon Molly’s brothers. I would be willing to bet that Ignatus was the Prewett family’s “rich uncle”, whose favor was very much to be sought, and that Gideon and Fabian’s first act of “defiance” of the Dark Lord was a refusal to join up.

Moving right along: I cannot off the top of my head recall whether there is a star named Nymphadora, but there is certainly a constellation named Draco. I think it’s clear that his mother had the primary say in the naming of him, and it is possible that his status as the collateral heir of the whole Black family is why his name and birthdate are both represented in full on the Black family tapestry, rather than merely being relegated to the same “1s” notation of all the other descendants of daughters. The tapestry by the time of Draco’s birth was no longer aware of Sirius, and both Regulus and Cygnus were dead.

[Side note: “Nymphadora” does sound very much as if it may be a reference to Nymphidia, the diminutive Queen of the Fairies and central character of a poem so entitled; written by the English poet, Michael Drayton, 1563–1631. i.e., Pre-Seclusion era, so wizards might well know of it.]

By the time Draco was born, he was the default heir presumptive, Regulus, being already dead and Sirius unmarried (as well as disowned and soon to be immured in Azkaban). It is partially for this reason that I thought Rowling may have really meant Regulus’s 1979 death date. Otherwise Draco might have gotten the simpler notation allotted to the mere descendant of a daughter. But no. Evidently Reggie merely died earlier in the year than Draco was born. Presumably over Easter break, given that he was still only 17. Draco’s birthday is in early June.

But actual inheritance in the ww may be more likely to transfer by a legally recorded will rather than on the say-so of a tapestry. And it may also be that the choice between a previously disowned son of the family and the prospect of an heir who was both not a Black, and also tainted by association with Riddle — who would have been strongly suspected of being the person behind this “Lord Voldemort” business by someone who was as much in the know as Arcturus Black would have been, was so odious that Arcturus reinstated Sirius as his heir in a formal will (tapestry bedamned), enabling Sirius to inherit after all. i.e., The Malfoys would have to just wait until Sirius was dead too before they’d ever get their hands on Arcturus’s property.

According to the original sketch, at the time of Arcturus’s death, Cygnus was still alive, and the house certainly didn’t go to him. I believe this may be why the film designers moved Cygnus’s death date up to 1979. By 1981, of the Black men, only (old) Pollux, (old) Arcturus, and Sirius were left.

It is also now necessary to consider the possibility that Lucius Malfoy may have also been recruited into the Death Eaters by his father-in-law Cygnus Black. Which would be around the time of his marriage, rather than upon his finishing Hogwarts in 1972 or ’73. Narcissa, some three years behind him at school would have finished in ’75, and both the marriage and his recruitment might have taken place at any time after that. We still have no indication in canon that Abraxus Malfoy was ever “connected” to Riddle. It is possible that Abraxus was far enough ahead of Riddle at Hogwarts to have escaped falling under his influence, which would not have been so very great in Tom’s earliest years there.

Or he could have been another one of the original Death Eaters who was at school with Riddle. We simply cannot know. We also do not know who Lucius Malfoy’s mother’s family were.

• • • •

Moving on:

As a fugitive from the law, Sirius Black was severely limited in just what contribution he could make towards furthering the objectives and goals of the Order of the Phoenix. But he did have one material asset, and that was the house at number 12 Grimmauld Place. With his death, that house, and Kreachur, passed into Harry’s possession.

Given that there are independent, reliable witnesses to the fact that it was Bellatrix who knocked her cousin through the Veil, she ought to have been out of the running for the inheritance, regardless of where she stands in the succession according to the tapestry. There are laws preventing one from being able to profit from a murder. In fact this is a solid tenet of British common law.

But, evidently my faith in the wizarding world’s (or Rowling’s) recognition of British common law (which long predates wizarding Seclusion) was misplaced, and we had to watch that utterly silly test of summoning Kreachur to determine whether, despite Sirius’s will, the house had passed to Bellatrix. If that’s what that performance was really about. I now suspect the whole performance was to get Harry to accept Kreachur. I suspected Kreachur had information that Harry needed. (And I was right. Although how Albus would have known about that is a continuing mystery, with a lame explanation.)

And, that after Sirius’s arrest and imprisonment, his grandfather Arcturus had lost heart, and did not return to #12, after Walburga’s death, remaining with his daughter until his own death in 1991.

So, we need to consider the possibility that while the tapestry keeps track of the family’s lines of descent, it does not necessarily follow the ownership of the property, which can be left outside the family by a formal will in the absence of a suitable male Black heir. The tapestry is only concerned with following the bloodlines, and/or the identity of the official Head of the Family. Those who are adjudged to have polluted the bloodlines (or to be in danger of doing so) are blasted off. The tapestry doesn’t want to know about their descendants. Or, rather, the Head of the Family, or his deputy, who maintains that tapestry, doesn’t want the tapestry to know about them.

And for that matter, as was pointed out to me by a correspondent, Orion and Walburga Black were never really the heads of the family anyway. Orion’s father Arcturus, like Walburga’s father Pollux, outlived them both. We keep overlooking this particular point because Sirius Black unaccountably fails to mention that both his grandfathers outlived his parents, and gives us no indication that the household at Grimmauld Place may have included grandparents as well as his parents and younger brother.

Indeed, by the time of his death, in 1991, Arcturus Black, even if he had agreed to his elder grandson’s having been blasted off the family tapestry at the time, would have seen both the boy and his own eldest grand-niece consigned to Azkaban for life. He would also have known that the youngest of his cousin Pollux’s granddaughters was married to another of the monster’s followers, even though acquitted, and knew that his own family name would not long survive himself.

That being the case, there was little reason to formally settle what remained of the estate upon either a halfblood female or a Malfoy, and that was what his choices had narrowed down to, thanks to that so-called Dark Lord.

• • • •

It also occurs to me that there is something else a bit off about the whole setup of the House in Grimmauld Place. We get very little indication of its age, style or whether it bears any underlying relationship to the houses around it. But from its description upon Harry’s arrival it sounds like a classic tall, narrow, London “row house” from the 18th or 19th century.

Most of modern London didn’t even physically exist before the 19th century.

There were any number pre-existing historical villages, however, which were swallowed up by Greater London over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. The House of Black could have originally been located in one of those. Islington or Highgate both seem likely and are frequently identified as the location of the house in fanfics.

But we do not actually know even its general location, thanks to the fact that Mad-Eye Moody’s circuitous and evasive approach makes it very difficult to pin that location down. Furthermore Harry was more or less confined to quarters during the summer he stayed there. The house appears to be in one of the older districts of London, and it is in walking distance of an Underground Station. It appears to be in a rather decrepit, older district of London, at that; an area afflicted by such signs of blight as broken windows, dirty walls and uncollected rubbish.

(Which renders Bellatrix’s grand contempt of the “Muggle dunghill” of the area around Spinner’s End into a rather blatant case of Pot vs. Kettle.)

The point at which I am driving is that unless that house was merely overtaken by the City’s growth, it must have come into the family’s possession comparatively recently, for otherwise it would not have existed until comparatively recently. Ergo; Phineas Nigelus, or perhaps his father or grandfather, however “pure” his blood or exclusive his views, had manifestly purchased a Muggle leasehold (probably of the usual 99 years duration) for his family’s primary residence, and that the house itself is probably not significantly older than Severus Snape’s equally Muggle-built piece of terraced mill worker’s housing — although to be sure, the Black residence was originally much, much posher. But this is manifestly no “manor house” in Wiltshire.

Given what we now know of them, it also seems not out of the question that the Blacks may have magically fuzzed the records regarding the property to avoid needing to deal with the land lease (most London property is actually owned by members of the Muggle royalty or nobility, so that when you purchase a house, you purchase only the house, not the land) and have been ripping off the owner for generations.

So. For all that they make a big deal of their ability to trace their wizarding descent back to some time in the 13th century, they have been living in Muggle London for most of the last 100-200 years. Suggesting that they may be old blood. But, in wizarding terms, they are not necessarily “old money”.

Or, more probably, that their fortunes have risen and fallen at any number of points along the way. To all appearances, the money currently appears to be in the process of running out again. Although when Sirius Black was sent to Azkaban, it was not quite gone yet.

Or, conversely, that Rowling just threw the whole milieu in as set-dressing, without the slightest consideration of what any of it implied.

• • • •

On another issue related to timing: Sirius’s statement, made at the point that we first learn of his connection to the three Black sisters, is that he had not seen his cousin Bellatrix from the time that he was Harry’s age until she and her husband were brought into Azkaban.

At the time this statement was made Harry Potter had just turned 15 years old. Sirius Black was probably 15 years old at the end of his 4th year at Hogwarts. By that time, Cousin Bellatrix may have already been married to Rodolphus Lestrange. By the following summer, when he would have been 16, Sirius had already left home.

It was long my contention that it was the fallout from the werewolf caper, which I then believed to have taken place at the end of Sirius’s 5th year, that provoked the final altercation which led Sirius Black to leave home at the age of 16, probably within a day or two of his arrival in London at the end of the Summer term. I now think that it is more likely that the werewolf caper took place much earlier in the year, and had, indeed, been successfully hushed up.

It was the disgracefuly public performance which we witnessed in the Pensieve junket and which, with Minerva McGonagall in the equation, the families of the perpetrators would have been notified of, and that it was that which brought matters to a head.

Sirius would have had no reason or inclination to seek out any of his family after that date (July, 1976). Consequently, any statements regarding any of them made after this point come to us from at least one remove. Which throws a great deal of uncertainty upon such matters as the report of the death of Sirius’s younger brother.

We know that the Black family was traditionally Dark Arts sympathetic. But by all accounts Sirius’s claim was that his own immediate family were never Death Eaters. Nevertheless, Sirius certainly claims to have believed that his parents would have been proud of Regulus’s decision to join Voldemort’s organization before it was clear that Voldemort was prepared to prey on non-combatant purebloods as readily as anyone else.

But it should also be pointed out that Sirius Black seems to have done a lot of talking through his hat about things he did not really know anything about.

I think it is a good deal more likely that, if his father had still been alive, Regulus’s new friends and his new tattoo would have provoked an explosion second only to the one that Sirius had provoked by the report of his engaging in a disgraceful, unprovoked public attack on another student. It would certainly not have been the first time that a teenager made a disastrously life-changing decision without consulting his parents. And this would have been the point that Reggie may have learned that he had bound himself irrevocably to following a halfblood.

Kreachur tells us nothing of this. But, then, he would protect his family’s secrets.

The probability is that the elder Blacks had never encountered Voldemort themselves. Or certainly not as “Lord Voldemort”. Indeed, by the time of his return from his first exile, he might not have particularly wished to meet anyone who might have known him as Tom Riddle that he could not definitely immediately draw under his influence. And he would probably have remembered that Walburga Black was a shrieking nuisance, and Orion was now married to her.

And Orion resisted being drawn in. At that point, it was early enough that such resistance was probably still possible. Tom had not yet devised a way to enslave his followers and set his mark upon them. Riddle might have therefore avoided those who withdrew, and later concentrated on enlisting their children.

The fact that Bellatrix boasts that Voldemort taught her the Dark Arts himself, strongly suggests that her own parents were not teaching them to her when she was an adolescent, no matter how much they might have favored their use themselves, or however much she might have whined or stormed that she wanted to learn them, now.

(These last statements have been rendered problematic since, by all indications, students are unofficially learning the Dark Arts at Hogwarts along with everything else, with no objections raised. Rowling clearly had no intention of ever clarifying what Dark magic supposedly is.)

Voldemort may have made the attempt to recruit a few somewhat older wizards into his Death Eaters, such as Karkaroff, who could be anything up to 100 when we first met him, but most of his initial followers seem to have been his own contemporaries and most of his subsequent followers have been their descendants.

• • • •

Which brings us to Regulus Black.

We now know the official story of Regulus Black, even though it doesn’t add up to anything we had ever been told about him earlier. And I don’t mean that in a nice way. But you have to admit that absolutely nothing stated in Kreachur’s tale supports his brother’s assertion that he was murdered by DEs.

We were told what purported to be a few facts about him earlier. But not a great many. Even fewer of these appear to hold up in the light of Kreachur’s tale. We knew that he was younger than his brother Sirius, but until now, we did not know how much younger. The difference seems to be 3 years. We also thought we knew that he was murdered at some point in 1980. The date of his death was stated in OotP and having been recorded on the family’s genealogical tapestry, and identified in the text as “some 15 years before” from the vantage point of August, 1995.

We now “know” that his death was in fact effectively suicide, and that it took place completely off everyone’s radar. I still have a very hard time believing that Voldemort made a common practice of initiating schoolboys who were still living in dormitories into the ranks of his marked Death Eaters. I mean, why tag them with a summoning device when they can’t even Apparate yet?

From Sirius’s summary, Regulus was a “stupid idiot” who got in, got cold feet, and got killed for it. But then we already know that Sirius is not so hot at judging character, even if this is his own brother he’s talking about, and now it sounds like he simply makes things up to suit himself! By the time we were given this information, Sirius was well beyond the point of trying to be fair-minded in any of his statements regarding the members of his own family. He had also had nothing to do with his family for something like 4 years before his brother’s disappearance, and claims that he only found out what happened after his brother died. (How did he find out, exactly? Whatever he “discovered” seems to have been completely wrong.)

And Remus Lupin backs him up in this fantasy. “Regulus only evaded the DEs for about a week before they caught him”. Well, according to Kreachur — who was there — no. He disappeared, the tapestry recorded his death, and no one ever knew anything of what had happened to him.

But Reggie does definitely seem to have signed on with Riddle. Tom Riddle has established a pattern of trying to make whoever he is attempting to influence believe that there is somehow a connection between himself and them. We’ve seen him try it with Harry. We learned that he surely did it with Barty Crouch Jr. We suspect he may have done it with Snape. All of which suggests an unprofitable, but irresistible side exploration of just who the Blacks were, particularly in relation to Tom Riddle.

We know that the Black Family can trace its descent back to the 13th century.

That’s a rather long time, even among wizards.

If wizarding population reflects Muggle population, then even only 300 years ago when wizarding Seclusion was established the wizarding community was probably no more than a tenth of what it is now. 400 years earlier, that community would have been smaller yet.

The Blacks also seem to have become pureblood isolationists at a very early point indeed. Which gave them even fewer “acceptable” options for potential marriage partners within what was already quite a narrow range to select from. And within that narrow range of acceptable options, they were probably already related in some degree to many of the likely candidates. (Which probably explains the number of unmarried Blacks. There simply isn’t a large enough pool of “eligible” connections.)

Including the Peverills?

Well, yes. Perhaps. Although the Peverills don’t seem to have lasted anything like as long as the Blacks.

Especially since we have no way of knowing whether the Peverills were likely to be a part of that same narrow, pureblood isolationist faction as early as the Blacks.

We only know that the Gaunts, who traced their descent from Slytherin also claimed descent from the Peverills. In fact, the Peverills sounded very much like they were the “high-water” mark of that family’s former position of distinction and influence. Marvolo Gaunt was much quicker to flaunt his Peverill connections than his descent from Salazar Slytherin.

Who, when the ballots are all in, was only a schoolmaster, after all.

And we were also originally led to believe that the Peverills, like the Blacks, were armigers. That the ring’s stone was supposedly engraved with a “coat-of-arms”.

We now know it was nothing of the sort. The stone was engraved with the sigil of the Deathly Hallows, and was reputed to have been a gift from Death himself. The Black family’s coat of arms is more conventional, having, at some point, merely been granted, or permitted them through the conventional lines of governmental authority.

Well, you don’t have to be titled in order to have an heraldic device recorded for your family. You just need to be successful at something. Or, at any rate that’s been the case for some time now. Originally those devices were military insignia, used to mark one’s position on a battlefield.

Until the 14th century or so, people more or less arbitrarily made up their own such devices, which would certainly have fallen within the time frame that the Blacks presumably acquired theirs. But once the Renaissance was stirring and everyone was obsessed by status, the Royal College of Heraldry started taking control of this process in order to protect the interests (and status) of those families whose devices were legitimately old, and really did trace back to a history of giving support to the crown in times of war. From that point on, a device was as much a matter of royal grant as a title would have been. In short, armigers may not always be titled, but just about all titled personages are armigers.

But such coats of arms have always been marks of Muggle distinction, awarded at the discretion of the (supposedly) Muggle ruler. Wizards, particularly wizards from the pureblood isolationist faction haven’t been dealing with Muggles, or their governments any more than they could avoid for a long time, now.

From a meta standpoint the Peverill ring read like yet another traditional trapping that Rowling had tossed into the mix without much consideration for what it actually represented. Now, we suposedly know better. It was a legitimate magical artifact of uncertain provenance which at some — probably later — point in its history had been decorated with an exclusively wizarding symbol. A symbol which had at some point in time been taken up by a bunch of loons, which effectively disguised its authenticity.

Nevertheless, the Gaunts were stated (by Albus, so decide for yourself whether you can trust anything he tells you) to have had a pronounced taste for grandeur (which Riddle seems to have inherited) and even the possession of a purely Muggle coat-of-arms would have been a mark of distinction, and consequently worth flaunting.

A short-lived family of Real-World Peverills were said to have been descended from a bastard line attributed to William the Conqueror and granted lands and honors in Derbyshire (another possibility for the location of the Riddle house). Another set of Peverills was a Notinghamshire family which appears to have continued for some time longer.

The Real-World John of Gaunt (actually Ghent) was one of the sons of Edward the 3rd. Indeed the son from whom the royal Lancastrian line descended; the line which usurped the throne of Richard II and produced Kings Henry IV, V, and VI. All of which came back to haunt them in the form of the evocatively named War of the Roses.

So, are the Blacks connected to the Gaunts?

Well, not closely. And certainly not recently. There are neither Gaunts nor Peverills on the section of the tapestry that we’ve seen (although there is a Potter). But the sketch we have only shows the last 5–6 generations of one branch of the family. Merely the last 150 or so of some 700 years. And we do not know for how long the Gaunts were in decline. Admittedly, given the tiny size of the wizarding community, there probably is a traceable connection to be found, if you go back far enough. Not that it would count for much by this time.

The fortunes of any family as old as the Blacks have probably risen and sunk any number of times over the centuries. There must have been a point or two that both the Blacks and the Gaunts (or the Peverills, or even the Slytherins) were at the same level at the same time and considered each other “eligible” connections. The Gaunt fortunes, acto Albus Dumbledore, ran out some generations upstream of Marvolo — who would have been born sometime in the latter half of the 19th century. From what we have in canon, his son and daughter were both born before 1910. A century or two earlier, around the time that Seclusion was imposed, the family may have been considered not merely “eligible” but “desirable” connections.

I suspect that an earlier portion of the Blacks’ genealogical tapestry might show such a connection. Which might explain why Riddle may have been interested in enthralling the Blacks and showed Bellatrix such marked attentions. These attentions were certainly not romantic. The lady already had a husband. Voldemort is her hero, not her lover, and she is his pet sycophant, not his mistress. Bellatrix was the eldest representative in her generation of a family whose pureblood magical ancestry was not that much less well established than his own. In fact it may very well be connected to his own. And hadn’t yet fallen into decline.

Tom spent a good deal of time at Hogwarts researching the wizarding “stud books” while he was trying to trace his own family. Once He managed to find the Gaunts, he very probably traced them until knew exactly who was related to who to a wider extent than most.

But none of the memories in the Riddle backstory that we saw openly mention a Black in association with young Tom Riddle. Nor do they mention a Malfoy. Still, that does not guarantee that such associations may not have been there.

And if the Black and the Gaunt families were not actually connected by blood, then at least they were connected by various traditions, including the practice of marrying their cousins. Although, given the general interrelatedness of wizarding families, if you refuse to “marry out” with the incomers, then marrying one’s cousins seems to be all but unavoidable.

• • • •

Before the release of HBP, I had already alluded to the probability of a cousin marriage regarding the older Blacks, in the essay regarding Sirius Black, long before we ever saw that section of the family tapestry which conclusively established it. And, while the Gaunts certainly inbred themselves into a state of complete degeneracy, the Blacks, if the conduct of the portrait of old Madam Black and Bellatrix’s (and even Sirius’s) general behavior are anything to go by, were no short distance down the same road.

The Blacks were certainly a far handsomer family than the Gaunts, and a number of them retained a fairly high degree of intelligence, but none of the ones we met seem to be exactly emotionally stable. (Although since the ones we’ve seen the most of were also addled by extended stays in Azkaban, it is difficult to make a definite statement on that issue.)

In fact, I’m half convinced that the whole introduction of the Gaunts into the narrative wasn’t intended so much as a device to absolve the conduct of the elder Tom Riddle, or to stack the deck of inevitable monstrosity against the young Tom Marvolo Riddle, as to serve as a lens through which to examine not only the Blacks, but the rest of the whole pureblood extremist faction and their families.

In keeping with this, we have also been given some interesting suggestions posed by their names. On this subject we can’t take much at face value, since we do not really know enough of wizarding conventions as regards the naming of their children to form any truly solid conclusions, but it still seems worth mentioning.

Families do appear to adopt certain naming styles. The Smiths appear to have adopted a tradition of giving their kids biblical-sounding names (Hepzibah, Zacharias) but we do not know that for sure. Those two names could be exceptions. Or a coincidence. They may not even be branches of the same family. There are a lot of Smiths, and they are not all related.

But we have noted that there is a pronounced tendency among wizards in general for botanical names, classical Latin and Greek names, or for names taken from various mythological pantheons. We have not, to this point, however, seem to have encountered anyone but people known to be connected to the Blacks who name their children after stars, or constellations of stars, in the sky — although this could just be yet another long-established wizarding tradition.

If it is such a tradition however, it does not appear to be one which has been in broad use over the past 150 or 175 years among any other family which we have documentary evidence for. None of the names of the spouses of the last 6 generations of Black descendants appear to bear celestial names.

But, to our certain knowledge, about half of the members of the Black family that we have seen listed on that chart (and all of the men but Phineas Nigelus, his 2nd son and Marius the disowned Squib) do bear such names as: Sirius, Regulus, Alphard, and Arcturus, as well as Draco, Orion, and Cygnus (all constellations).

A great deal of effort has been expended to associate the name Rabastan (Bellatrix Lestrange’s brother-in-law) with Rastaban, a star also known as beta Draconis. I’m not altogether convinced by these efforts, but if this is the case, then it could indicate that Bellatrix and Rodolphus are another example of a marriage between cousins. Even if very distant ones. Bellatrix’s husband is the only Lestrange listed on that chart, which covers half a dozen generations.

But, the heavens help us, “Merope” is the name of one of the Pleides. The group of stars referred to as the seven sisters, near the constellations of Taurus and Orion.

So which came first? Did a long ago Black marry into the Gaunts (or the Peverills), or a Peverill (or a Gaunt) marry into the Blacks and bring their naming customs with them? Or both? Or neither? And, for the third time, Echo answers us nothing.

“Morfin” otoh, when subjected to a Google search turned up the following, which seemed of interest:


  1. English and French: unexplained; possibly a variant of Morfey, an unflattering nickname meaning ‘cursed’, ‘ill-omened’, ‘ill-fated’, Medieval Latin malefatus. This surname is also established in Mexico.

Which offers yet another suggestive line of inquiry given the (perhaps quite spurious) similarities of Morfin/Morfey/malefatus/Malfoy (English and French). Which prompts one to take a second look at Voldemort’s motivations in his entrusting of the Diary Horcrux to Lucius.

But to attempt to follow this line of reasoning any further is likely to be, as I said, unprofitable.

But we do now seem to be tripping over quite a number of very curious possibilities which Rowling turned loose when she chose to insert such an exaggeratedly grotesque element into the story as the House of Gaunt.

Until you take a closer look and realize that maybe it was not so exaggerated after all.