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Red Hen Publications — Commentary Collection — Potterverse People Essay: A Muggle-Raised Halfblood
Potterverse People

Trying to make the Potterverse make sense since 2003!

Well. So.

Why would pureblood supremacists choose to follow a half-blood?

Well, we first have to ask whether his followers know that he is a half-blood. We were given some indication in Order of the Phoenix that my own early suspicion that the majority of them probably don’t could well be correct. And any of them who do certainly do not admit to knowing that he is a half-blood.

Bellatrix Lestrange seemed outraged at the very suggestion, and she claims to have been among his closest favorites once upon a time. But then, Bellatrix certainly wasn’t one of his original followers. And there is definitely a possibility that there is more to her outrage than appears on the surface. There could be a history there. Quite apart from her being a member of the Black family.

I was pretty sure that some of his original followers, which is to say, the ones who had been in school with him, probably suspected that he was at least not a pureblood. Riddle, after all, is hardly a traditional wizarding name. But the most that anyone could say is that they would have known perfectly well that there are no Riddles listed in ‘Nature's Nobility’.

But that would have been no indication that he actually had a Muggle for a father. He could have simply had a Muggle for a grandfather. Or even a great-grandfather. Or that the Muggles who ran that orphanage he lived in could have lumbered him with that name. Orphanages did assign names to babies given into their care.

And if I’m correct that the whole “Lord Voldemort” rig that they were running, with Tom as the front man, was started off as a group effort, then the last thing that they would have chosen to spread around was the fact that the whole thing was completely bogus. Or, at least not until they could get a maximum payoff of publicly embarrassing their elders from it.

Especially not once they decided to use the Lord Voldemort persona as a mouthpiece for a pureblood supremacy manifesto.

Although that decision wasn’t made for at least a few years.

I now suspect that the core group of Tom’s original followers was probably composed of no more than a handful of his ex-schoolmates. We may have been misled by Albus’s statements of the wide variety of reasons that other schoolboys had chosen to follow Tom’s lead back at Hogwarts. There is no real proof that all of those schoolboys went on to follow him once he started calling publicly himself Lord Voldemort.

And if, as I have postulated, the “Lord Voldemort” hoax was originally presented in the nature of a prank on the older generation which thought far too well of itself, those few unaffiliated compatriots who might have remembered the “Lord Voldemort” in-joke from Hogwarts, might well have kept quiet so as not to spoil the fun.

The Diary Revenant did tell us that only a few of Riddle’s contemporaries were a part of the “Lord Voldemort” silliness back in school.

And, years later, by the time the Lord Voldemort persona was now being identified as the leader of the group calling themselves Death Eaters, they may have felt they had other reasons to decide to keep quiet about it in public.

The Death Eaters, after all, didn’t go “public” until some years after that hypothetical (and successful) prank on their elders.

• • • •

And, in addition, there was that ring that he started wearing in his 5th year and probably claimed was an heirloom. Only a wizard from a wizarding family would have worn that.

Yes we are back to the sigil of the Hallows again. We really didn’t have any context for that until old Xeno Lovegood showed up wearing it at the Weasley wedding. But the very fact that he did so is a bit of a game changer.

First off, it totally pwns the idea that the sigil was ever any family’s coat-of-arms. Family coats-of-arms are unique. The sigil of the Hallows has been being used by a no-longer-especially “secret club” as their own emblem for centuries. Ergo; the ring and its sigil didn’t identify Tom as a Peverill, it identified him as a descendant of a family of Hallows questers. Which is an exclusively wizarding group and a very, very old one. That’s probably what Sluggy was referring to when he claimed that anyone could tell that Tom was from the right sort of family background to get ahead in the Ministry.

Yeah, yeah, I know, many if not most wizards today may consider the Hallows questers a bunch of complete loons, but no one considers them Johnny-come-latelies. If the boy was connected to one of those families, he was “old blood”, even after a name change, and managing to misplace his heritage.

Tom had already developed a fine contempt for “ordinary” people well before he showed up at Hogwarts. And he was all too obviously willing to regard his being a wizard as “special”. He would not have publicly expressed anything less than disdain for the Muggles who had raised him. It would have been apparent that he scarcely regarded them as his own species. There’s nothing in that to give any of his housemates from pureblood supremacist sympathizing families pause.

It also took him some years of research before he finally had to give up and admit that his father had probably not been a wizard; before he finally turned to his despised mother’s family and managed to get a line on Marvolo Gaunt. After encountering Morfin, I doubt that he would have broadcasted that whopping disappointment to his schoolmates, either. Although in view of the age of the family name, he might possibly have admitted the connection.

And there certainly was nothing about his magic, his control of it, or his skills to have given anyone a clue that he was anything other than the purest of the pure. Unless his observers were aware of the fact that from Merlin on, the real magical prodigies usually tend to be those of mixed heritage. And I suspect that the most die-hard pureblood families do not like to admit that. They certainly do not teach the knowledge of that little peculiarity to their children.

We also had it handed to us on a silver platter in HBP that young Tom Riddle’s control of his magic was both prodigious and precocious (as was that of young Lily Evans in DHs, unless Rowling simply lost track of keeping such things in proportion). No one in Slytherin House would have suspected that young Tom was anything other than a child of wizards — even if he had been raised by Muggles. Perhaps especially if he was known to have been raised by Muggles. Where, after all, was such innate skill suspected to have come from in a child who was raised completely outside the ww?

If Horace Slughorn was astonished to discover (some 30 years later) that a child with the skills of a Lily Evans was Muggle-born, he would have certainly not have guessed that young Tom Riddle was a literal half-blood.

• • • •

Voldemort seems very up-front about his Muggle father when the discussion has only been between him and Harry (and unconscious Ginny, or freshly-maimed Pettigrew moaning and sobbing in the background — whom I suspect Voldemort completely discounted). But when it came down to addressing the troops, he reveals only that his father is buried there in the Little Hangleton graveyard (as, no doubt, is Marvolo Gaunt. In fact there’s probably no shortage of Gaunts in that graveyard). If anyone had chosen to investigate the matter they would have quickly discovered that there had been wizards in the vicinity of Little Hangleton for a long time. Parselmouths, too.

Given the following quote from CoS, I’m not convinced Riddle’s schoolmates ever really had any clear idea of his parentage.

“[Lord Voldemort] was a name that I was already using at Hogwarts, to my most intimate friends only, of course. You think I was going to use my filthy Muggle father’s name forever? I, in whose veins runs the blood of Salazar Slytherin himself, through my mother’s side? I, keep the name of a foul, common Muggle, who abandoned me even before I was born, just because he found out my mother was a witch? No, Harry – I fashioned myself a new name, a name I knew wizards everywhere would one day fear to speak, when I had become the greatest sorcerer in the world!”

We do not get any indication in the above passage to suppose that these particular early “friends” were all that deeply in his confidence. Nor, indeed that they were all that numerous. And, given Riddle’s general slyness, there is nothing in the summary quoted above to indicate that he had come right out and admitted to those “intimate friends” his intention of ultimately making himself feared throughout the wizarding world, either.

Or not yet. No, the signs were certainly all there, and any of them probably could have guessed as much. A few of them probably did, and some of them may well have agreed with him that this was a desirable goal, but his ultimate intentions regarding the wizarding world I think he kept to himself, when he was still at Hogwarts.

And while it is unquestionable that Riddle’s school friends knew his original name, it is far from an outside possibility that they did not know — even then — that his father was actually a Muggle. The young Tom Riddle, was unaware of that fact himself, until he had actually tracked down and spoken with his uncle Morfin. And the young Tom Riddle, unlike Draco Malfoy — up until HBP — was very well able to keep his own council.

They all understood that Tom was believed to return to his orphanage in the summer. They probably also knew that Tom had never known his parents. But Tom could easily have given them the impression that his father was a wizard and that his mother had only gone off among the Muggles after he left her. It’s not like he even knew the full story himself, at the time. As pointed out above, he didn’t get that until he rooted out Morfin, which he didn’t manage to do until he was 15.

However, Tom would have rapidly determined the general worldview of his Slytherin housemates and reflected it back to them. Few of them would have supposed him to be anything other than a magical child of magicals like most of themselves, despite the knowledge that he had been raised in a Muggle orphanage, possibly under a false name — which is a story that I think he was willing enough to spread around since he could gain some sort of advantage from it. It would have made him “interesting”.

• • • •

At any rate, his schoolmates did know that he was raised in a Muggle orphanage.

This might have been taken as a given, knowing that he was born outside the wizarding world and his mother died within an hour afterward, leaving him in the hands of the mundane authorities.

And Tom was highly personable when he chose to be. For a brilliant orphan boy to be determined to trace his true family is something with which I think quite a few of his housemates would have been willing to assist him. Either in or out of school. Some of them may have even had hopes of discovering him to be a long-lost cousin or something.

We were given a minor clue in HBP that at least a couple of the other boys suspected something about Tom’s background. Tom’s demure response about lacking the “proper background” to Professor Slughorn’s teasing prediction of a glowing political career, provoked a response from at least a couple of Tom’s companions, but the odds are against that response having been based upon any suspicions of a possible Muggle, or three, dangling from Tom Riddle’s family tree. We have no idea of what exactly their suspicions were, or whether those suspicions were even in the right ballpark. Although, in hindsight, they had probably merely recognized the Deathly Hallows sigil on his ring.

By the time that conversation took place Tom was habitually wearing Marvolo’s ring. With the specifically wizarding sigil of the Deathly Hallows associated with the Hallows Questers engraved upon it. (An association with which Tom appears to have been completely unaware to the end of his life. Oooo, irony). Although the Gaunts probably were hardly the only bloodline who attempted to claim a connection to the Peverills, Tom himself never attempted to do that. Which is probably just as well. It would have been gilding the lily, and I doubt he would have been believed.

But I’m sure that somebody did recognize the device on that ring. Slughorn certainly did. In fact he obviously recognized it again when Albus turned up some 50+ years later, wearing it, with the stone broken, trying to convince Slughorn to return to Hogwarts.

• • • •

On yet another count, that oh-so-grandiloquent name that he adopted; “Lord Voldemort”, seems associated more closely with his ambition to make himself immortal than the one to make himself feared. Such an ambition certainly does not inspire widespread horror in and of itself. After all, it had already been done — by Nicholas Flamel — who is hardly a byword of stalking Evil. If anyone had happened to catch wind of that goal, it would not have automatically set off any particular alarms. Certainly not back then.

If they had caught wind of it, early observers would have probably admired Tom as a properly ambitious Slytherin lad with a laudable goal and the brilliance to just possibly carry it off, someday. Such a public façade would have been very much in keeping with the face Tom presented to authority while he was still in school. The “Lord Voldemort”, of his later iteration, did not surface for anything up to 20 years after that early meeting of the Slug Club, and the only people who already knew of that alias were the ones that he took down the road to ruin with him.

With at least a few possible exceptions. Orion Black was two years behind Riddle at Hogwarts, a member of the Slug Club in his own right, and fit the profile of being highly “collectible”, according to either Slughorn’s or Riddle’s criteria. And yet, when Riddle returned to the ww and set up the Death Eaters, Orion did not permit himself to be added to the collection.

Nor, so far as we can tell, did Orion’s older cousin Alphard. We do not know for sure whether or not Cygnus, Alphard’s younger brother did. But he may very well have.

By the time Orion’s elder son was old enough to sit up and take notice, Orion was throwing every spare knut into applying layers upon layers of protection upon the family home. With his own father’s evident endorsement.

Well, this is all very suggestive. But I’ve already amply explored the possibility that the Black family, or at least Orion and his father Arcturus were aware of something of Riddle’s background in the ‘Man’s Best Friend’, ‘Noble House of Black’, and the ‘Raiders of the Lost Horcrux’ essays, some of which has been rather unconvincingly counter-indicated in DHs, but I will not repeat it here. But if the elder Blacks did know anything to the purpose, they do not seem to have shared the information with Orion’s cousin, Cygnus’s branch of the family.

But then, Cygnus married one of the Rosiers. Who were oh-but-definitely, “connected” to Riddle.

• • • •

By the end of the series, the followers who were the most likely to know of Voldemort’s half-blood origins were Peter Pettigrew, who would have had opportunity to learn it from Harry at the end of Book 2 and may have overheard Riddle confirming it while he himself was moaning over his mutilated arm at the end of Book 4, Lucius Malfoy, who had the keeping of at least a few of Tom Riddle’s personal effects for a dozen or so years, and Severus Snape, who likes knowing everyone’s secrets, and, having been sent to infiltrate Dumbledore’s school may have learned it in the course of his spying. Indeed, Albus might have told him of it outright.

All three of whom were most likely to hoard this information themselves in order to use it to their best advantage later.

Indeed, in Snape’s case, Voldemort may even have confided it himself. From both Voldemort’s conversation with (or at) Harry in the graveyard before the DEs showed up, and Barty Crouch’s statement to Harry, before they were interrupted by Dumbledore’s rescue party we can conclude that Voldemort often took care to mirror back to those he was attempting to influence, some element of their own background, offering some illusory point of “connection” and presumed fellowship between them in order to enlist their sympathies.

Whether this was his general practice, or a gambit that he had judged to be best deployed in the case of Barty Crouch Jr, in order to win his loyalty and use him against his father is still uncertain. We got no clear indication one way or another to the end of the series.

For that matter, it may have just been a habit that he picked up over the years that he was working as a sales assistant for Burke. He was probably very pursuasive at selling things.

The fact that in CoS the Diary Revenant also uses this ploy with Harry who he fully intends to kill before the evening is over suggests that this behavior may have been so habitual as to be a mere reflex, possibly by the time he was out of his teens. If there are other literal or technical half-bloods in his ranks (and we got no real suggestion of it, Snape appears to have been unique) it is just barely possible that they may also know this fact about their leader.

Still, the information we were given in HBP suggests that this is unlikely. We now know that his “inner circle” are comprised of only a few dozen followers, and most of those are the descendants of his original followers, or scions of other families of similarly pureblood extremist views. In fact, the majority of them now appear to be “hereditary” minions rather than new “recruits”. Incomers who are outsiders, like Snape, have probably always been a rarity. As were such cases as Barty Crouch Jr, acting out their own adolescent rebellion by joining up with the “other side”.

• • • •

I tended to doubt that Riddle spent his entire missing decade in Britain once he had murdered Hepzibah Smith and escaped with some of her rather significant treasures. Dropping off the face of the earth, tends to imply that you don’t stick around where the people who know you by sight are going to see you.

Until DHs was released I thought that Tom had decided that he had a lot of world to see and a lot of other places to go, hunting for ways to secure his immortality. And I imagined that post-war Europe and the Middle East had offered plenty of opportunities for a young, clever, ambitious Dark wizard. India and Asia would have had their attractions too, I suspected. Possibly South America as well. Particularly British-held Argentina.

None of these, were likely hunting grounds for artifacts significant to the founders of Hogwarts School, however.

It now turns out that I was probably wrong, and once again this was a thread that didn’t really materialize. Rowling went for the cheap and easy on this stretch of the official Riddle backstory. So far as we can tell, Riddle went no farther than Albania, and seems to have gone there directly as soon as he left Britain.

Acto Rowling, Riddle had already decided upon what method he was going to use to secure his immortality before he finished school. Had already created the first two of his Horcruxes by then as well. (Which I have a lot of trouble believing, and finally just plain reject. Although I do agree that he had already created the Ring.)

I will admit that his sweet-talking the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw into telling him what she did with her mother’s diadem was at least an unanticipated insertion, and took me a bit by surprise. I don’t doubt that he had already pried the other half of the story out of the Baron. And it was very nice to have all the WTF? references to Albania finally sorted out and given some context.

Evidently what we are now supposed to conclude (if we believe Harry. I will state up front that I don’t) is that Tom finished school, was not allowed to stay on as a teacher and search the castle for suitable artifacts, so he went off on a traditional “grand tour”, instead. Or at least that’s what he may have given people to understand. He doesn’t appear to have gone off to do it with friends. Or if he did, he parted company with them once they got to the eastern Mediterranean. In any case, he made a beeline to the Albanian forests and ultimately managed to recover the Ravenclaw diadem.

And then, he returned to Britain, and took up a post in Borgin & Burke hoping to ultimately get a lead on his mother’s locket, which had been Slytherin’s. He ended up with the Hufflepuff Cup too, as a bonus.

I rather suspect that Harry’s reading of the chronology of these events was bas-ackward (quel surprise!) and Tom took up his post at B&B directly upon leaving school — and then blipped off to Albania after he murdered Hepzibah and had reason to get out of Dodge for a while.

So while it is possible that he spent a decade trying to get a lead on a Gryffindor artifact other than the sword (which was probably already quite famous to everyone but an incurious dolt like Harry), he certainly never managed it. Instead, he is now assumed to have spent that decade hunting for the Diadem, and given where and how it had been left, it may have taken the full decade to find it, too.

It also is more than likely that by 1981, since he soon expected to have the school under his control once he murdered the child of Prophecy (for, after all, what other reason would he have entrusted Lucius Malfoy with the Diary?) he expected to soon have the leisure to search the castle for a Gryffindor artifact, or to simply wait until the Sword made its reappearance, and take possession of it whether he turned it into a Horcrux or not. You’ll notice that he gave Lucius that Diary at exactly same time he ordered Snape into the school. You will also notice that (acto Albus) he asked for the Diary back within a couple of months of his return, too..

Oh, he had plans, all right.

And in a pinch, there was always the Sorting Hat, which had also been Gryffindor’s. And which he ultimately intended to retire from active service, anyway.

• • • •

This would also be a reasonable time and place to do a bit of debunking of a persistent rumor which is regularly brought up in the fandom regarding the inevitable comparisons between Lord Voldemort and Adolf Hitler. Namely the persistent rumor that Adolph Hitler himself was a bastard child whose mother was Jewish. This parallel is clearly intended by Rowling as well — who ends up coming across as a complete ignoramus for invoking this myth — given the fact that the charge itself is utter bunkum.

For it is quite untrue, and is readily disproved by even a cursory look through a modern, reputable biography. (It probably ought to be pointed out that many if not most of the immediate post-war bios were anything but. Rita Skeeter would have been proud of some of them.)

In fact, upon investigation, the actual rumor itself seems to have predated Adolf’s birth by a full generation, if not more, and it is an extraordinary example of the persistence of human spite and general nastiness.

Where it appears to have originated is that Adolf’s grandmother (who was not Jewish) was in domestic service as a young woman, sometime in the early-to-middle 19th century, and was “walking out” with a local farmer. As has been known to happen, she ended up getting pregnant out of wedlock and she and her farmer (who was, indeed, the kid’s father) were forced to marry in haste.

Well, as commonplace as that all sounds, it was about the most exciting thing that had happened in that little backwater for a decade, so the local gossips just couldn’t let it pass. It didn’t help that neither the farmer nor Adolf’s grandmother were the least bit popular.

Furthermore, the actual facts of the matter just weren’t dramatic enough to suit them, so they glommed onto the fact that the family she was working for (which was Jewish) had a son in his mid-teens and ran with it.

It also didn’t help that her employers had, very decently, given her some kind of monetary wedding gift to start housekeeping with. Apparently no good deed does go unpunished. Their wedding gift was rapidly recast as “hush money”.

The child, Adolf’s own father, seems to have been a real little shit, and he grew up to be a very big shit, and abusive with it. He was even more unpopular than his parents, and of course all the old scandal got raked over on a regular basis just because people of that stamp positively invite others to say nasty things about them, and to keep on saying them. (And if you are determined to act like a bastard to people, other people will call you one if given any kind of excuse.)

And of course by that time nothing could really be proved to anyone’s satisfaction one way or the other. And even if it could have, it wouldn’t have stopped the talk. Consequently, 20–40 years later the tale was still making the rounds when Adolf was a boy.

And it would have infuriated him since it simply was not true. And the whole family knew it was not true. And the gossips kept right on talking. Small wonder he developed a “complex” about it.

Germany also got shafted big time at the end of WWI and was itching to find an identifiable scapegoat. The Jewish community made a very easy target. Adolf certainly resented the Jews’ very existence for his own reasons, but his own reasons alone would not have created the situation that developed.

What was rather more relevant to young Adolf’s psychological development, however, were the parents that he actually had.

His father was a brute. There is no question about that, nor any other way of stating it. Herr Hitler was a brute, and a batterer who beat his wife, and beat his kids, and beat his son Adolf, black and blue, on just about any or no provocation. Immediately after WWII biographers used this well-documented history of abuse to conclude that the child must therefore have been a monster from birth and had richly deserved it. More recent biographers have had a good deal less invested in proving to the world that since Adolf was obviously “born” to be a monster, then everybody else involved is comfortably off the hook.

But, while having an abusive parent can produce some seriously maladjusted personalities, it does not seem to be the critical factor that produces sociopaths. And by pretty much all accounts, Adolf Hitler does seem to have been a sociopath. Even if not quite on the same scale as Tom Riddle.

An unconfirmed, but reasonable-sounding hypothesis raised by a more recent investigator — whose name escapes me. I’m sorry. What I read was an article in a magazine in a doctor’s office sometime in the early ’80s. The article was extracted from a book, but I did not ever encounter the book itself. I’m pretty sure the magazine was something like “Psychology Today”. This investigator drew attention to the fact that the Hitler family had just lost an infant shortly before Adolf’s birth. The author, who I believe was a psychiatrist, postulated that Adolf’s mother, trapped in a marriage with a battering brute of a husband and having just been bereaved of one of her children, might have been so deeply in a clinical depression during Adolf’s earliest months that she was never able to bond with him.

And that IS a factor which can contribute to producing a sociopath. Such development is not guaranteed, but it is documented as being relevant.

And if this is the case, then, ironically, the early biographers turn out not to have been altogether wrong. Young Adolf was indeed a monster, if not precisely from birth, then certainly before he was old enough to walk or talk. And maybe there was a reason his behavior got up his father’s nose from an early age. Herr Hitler senior was clearly not a patient nor a tolerant man.

Beating a child doesn’t produce a sociopath. But neither does it cure one.

Still, for all that Rowling herself has referred to Lord Voldemort as “a Hitler”, we are not really concerned with the life of Adolf Hitler, here. Our concern is with the life of Tom Riddle.

I do have to admit that drawing the Riddle=Hitler parallel certainly makes a lot better sense than the Hitler=Grindelwald one. Rowling was not able to make that association even remotely convincing, and the dates we’ve got simply do not add up. In fact Rowling’s Grindelwald arc, as presented, so bollixes up the timeline that we can no longer even safely assume that Riddle ever heard of anyone named Adolf Hitler. The whole prospect of a mid-century war has taken a complete left turn, since, apparently, Grindelwald never took his war to Britain. Rowling might have been better advised to draw her straight line between one set of two points or the other. She couldn’t have it both ways and shouldn’t have attempted to.

Quite possibly Riddle would have admired Hitler tremendously — if Hitler even existed in the Potterverse. Or Tom might have if the man hadn’t been a Muggle.