Cursed Half-Blood Orphans

Harry and Voldemort have always had a lot in common. They were both orphaned at a young age, raised in cold and uncaring environments, and found the home they had never had at Hogwarts. They were both “half-blood” wizards, coming from old magical families but with muggle relatives as well, and neither of them knew about Hogwarts before they turned eleven. They both spoke Parseltongue and had the option to be in Slytherin house, although Harry chose Gryffindor instead. They were both natural leaders who drew supporters to their cause. Harry and young Tom Riddle are even said to look similar.

It occurred to me that Credence from Fantastic Beasts is a lot like both of them. He is also an orphan, raised in perhaps the cruelest situation of the three, by the leader of a group of witch-hunters who is implied to have killed his mother. He comes from a magical background (spoilers for Crimes of Grindelwald suggest he might be a Lestrange), but is raised by muggles and develops an obscurus by trying to suppress his powers. He does not go to Hogwarts and would be unlikely to be sorted into Slytherin; he’s an antagonist, but he is not ambitious or cunning, and is easily manipulated by others rather than being the one doing the manipulating. However, it seems like he’s become close with the Maledictus character, who is now confirmed to be Nagini, so he, too, has a connection to Slytherin house and snakes.

Credence is who Harry might have been if the Dursleys had tried a little harder to force the magic out of him. If, instead of stubbornly ignoring his early signs of magic, they had gone through with Uncle Vernon’s remark that his abilities were “nothing a good beating wouldn’t have fixed”. Credence is like a version of Harry who never got his Hogwarts letter, never met Ron and Hermione, and instead went on living with the Dursleys until adulthood. Like Harry, he is an unwitting host to a dark force he can’t control, which makes him a target for the main villain of the series: for Credence, his obscurus, and for Harry, the fragment of Voldemort’s soul that attached itself to him when he was a baby. In both cases, it seems as if there is no solution other than their deaths. No one survives being an obscurial, and Harry will have to die in order for Voldemort to die. However, they both survive their near-death experiences – at least for now.

Like young Tom Riddle – and unlike Harry – Credence is a creepy teenager who immediately looks like a suspicious character. His body language and way of speaking tell you immediately that there’s something wrong. And you’d be right. But while Voldemort is a sociopath and a vicious killer from a young age, Credence is an emotional wreck terrified of his own powers. He, like Voldemort, kills several people – including his muggle parent – as a young man, but Voldemort’s actions are cold and premeditated, while Credence is literally possessed by a dark force and is not fully in control of or aware of his actions. Credence, much like Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, makes the reader/viewer question who the real monster is: the thing doing the killing, or the person who created it? With Voldemort, no such question needs to be asked. His lonely childhood is not used to excuse or even explain his behavior, and the fact that he was conceived via love potion – the closest thing he has to Credence’s obscurial or Harry’s horcrux status – is something Rowling has described as “symbolic” of his inability to love rather than being the literal cause of it. He is clearly evil through and through.

I just recently read The Cuckoo’s Calling, by “Robert Galbraith” – J.K. Rowling’s adult mystery novel pseudonym. The main character, Cormoran Strike, had a rough childhood. He is not technically an orphan, but he might as well be. Although there is no magic and therefore there are no magical families, Cormoran’s father is wealthy and famous, while his mother was poor and died young. He’s not literally cursed, but things haven’t gone well for him. This is a recurring pattern in Rowling’s work; neither her protagonists and her antagonists come from stable and happy homes or have easy childhoods. Supporting characters like Ron and Hermione are a different story, but Newt Scamander might be the only lead that doesn’t have major family-related baggage.

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Understanding Literary Concepts Through Harry Potter: Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is the main character of the story. They may not necessarily be the “hero” of the story, but they often are. Obviously, Harry is the protagonist of the Harry Potter series.

The antagonist is the main character’s opponent. Harry has several antagonists, the most important of which is Voldemort. The antagonist can be, but doesn’t have to be, the “villain” of the story.

In the main Harry Potter series, hero/protagonist and villain/antagonist line up pretty well, but in some of the newer material, that’s not the case. For instance, in the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Newt Scamander is the protagonist. Tina fills the role of the antagonist at the beginning, up until Percival Graves sentences her and Newt both to death, at which point she becomes his ally. Mary Lou Barebone is a terrible person, but she almost never crosses paths with Newt and his friends, so she isn’t much of an antagonist. Instead, the much more sympathetic Credence fills that role after Tina abandons it, with his transformation into the Obscurus providing one of the main sources of conflict. Percival Graves is the most clear-cut villain/antagonist in the movie, and the last-second revelation makes Grindelwald the big-picture antagonist who the viewer can expect to continue in that role in the sequels.

It’s harder to think of a protagonist who was not a hero. The only one I can think of comes from Tales of Beedle the Bard. The story titled “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” follows a selfish young warlock who uses dark magic to remove his own heart and prevent himself from falling in love. After years of keeping it outside his body, it becomes shriveled and hardened, covered with hair. The young warlock is the villain of the story, but he is also the main character, and therefore the protagonist.

It’s common for the protagonist to be more villain than hero in older tragedies, where they are undone by a tragic character flaw. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Richard III, and Julius Caesar, the protagonists commit murder for political power. They are certainly not good people.

When we talk about heroes and villains, we are talking about a character’s morality: whether or not their actions are, on the whole, admirable ones, and their values ones that the story is endorsing. When we talk about protagonist and antagonist, we are talking about the role that the character plays in the story. It is typical for the antagonist to be a villain, and in children’s stories like Harry Potter, almost unheard of for the protagonist not to be a hero. However, they are two distinct concepts, one describing the character as good or evil, the other describing who is the focal point of the story and who is standing in their way or causing problems for them.

Understanding Literary Concepts Through Harry Potter: Flat and Round, Static and Dynamic

A flat character is like a pencil sketch of a person. You have some idea of what they look like, what their goals are, even their basic personality, but none of the detail that would make them feel real. A round character is the opposite. They do have those details, and they come across as real people even though the audience knows they are fictional.

There are a lot of round characters in Harry Potter, but there are also many who have only a small part to play and therefore minimal characterization. Pansy Parkinson is Draco Malfoy’s mean-spirited and frivolous girlfriend. Hepzibah Smith was a wealthy and easily-manipulated woman from whom Voldemort stole Slytherin’s locket and Hufflepuff’s cup. Sturgis Podmore is a member of the Order of the Phoenix who Voldemort tries to use to get the prophecy. That’s … pretty much all there is to those characters.

On the other hand, if I said, “Harry Potter is an orphan raised by his aunt and uncle who discovers he has magical powers and is the chosen one of a prophecy”, I have only scratched the surface of who Harry is. I’ve said nothing about his personality, his morals, his friendships, his goals, his hopes, his fears, his doubts, his strengths and weaknesses, or any of the myriad of other things that define who Harry is. And, unlike the characters I mentioned in the previous paragraph, Harry has all those things and more. Flat characters can be summed up in a few words or a sentence, while round characters would require an essay to do them justice.

Another way to classify characters is by their character development. A dynamic character changes over the course of the story, while a static character remains the same. These two concepts are often lumped together, with the assumption that round characters are dynamic and flat characters are static. Most examples fit this pattern. For example, I named Pansy Parkinson as a flat character. Aside from aging seven years over the course of the series, she does not change very much. She does not reconsider her actions, but nor does she go any further down the path that she’s on, (for instance by fighting for Voldemort in the Battle of Hogwarts). In Deathly Hallows, she’s still the same shallow, unpleasant schoolgirl she’s always been. On the flip side, Draco Malfoy looks very much like a flat/static character early in the series. Around the time of Half-Blood Prince, it becomes evident that he is neither. His development in the final two books both deepens his characterization beyond the one-dimensional playground bully and forces him into a situation where he can’t continue to be just the playground bully.

However, a static character (who does not change) can also be a round character whose personality is well developed but remains constant. For example, Hagrid is a major character with a fully-developed and lifelike personality, but he does not change over the course of the story. The Hagrid who delivers Harry to his aunt and uncle’s house in Sorcerer’s Stone is essentially the same Hagrid who carries him back to Hogwarts castle in Deathly Hallows. If he changes, it’s in very small ways. The same is true of many of the other adults in the series as well.

It’s harder to imagine a dynamic character (who changes) somehow not being a round character. In order to understand why someone would undergo a major change, their character would have to be complex. It’s not impossible, though: one example from Harry Potter that comes to mind is Regulus Black. We know he started out as a loyal Death Eater and later chose to betray Voldemort. We know what he discovered that made him reconsider. But his actual personality is extremely vague and is revealed entirely through other characters’ descriptions. Ariana Dumbledore is another such character, one who goes through a dramatic change but is never fully fleshed out as anything more than a plot device. Both are purely backstory characters and are dead before the main narrative begins, and both are defined almost entirely by the change they went through, with very little personality beyond that change.

However, it is true that the vast majority of round characters are also dynamic, and the vast majority of flat characters are also static. Complex characterization usually leads to character development and change over time, while shallower characters who exist only as a pencil sketch idea typically stay the same.

Becoming an Obscurial

I’ve written before about Ariana as an obscurial, and I still think it’s a strong possibility – but as much as she has in common with Credence, there are also several major differences between them. If an obscurus forms over a long period of time, as a result of repeatedly trying to suppress one’s magic, maybe they’re not as clear-cut as they seem. It seems like there would be some gray area between “well-adjusted magical child” and “angry dark cloud of destruction”, and that someone who becomes an obscurial would first go through that gray area rather than suddenly becoming one overnight. Here are my thoughts on what that might look like:

Normal Childhood Magic

It’s always portrayed as normal that magical children will not have control of their magic until around the age of eleven. Only in rare cases are they able to use it intentionally, and they may or may not even suspect that what they’re doing is magic. However, young children’s magic is generally harmless.

Involuntary Fear/Anger-Based Magic

I’ve noticed that Harry’s childhood magic seems more volatile and defensive than other characters’. When his mother uses magic in Snape’s memories, it’s to do innocent things like floating through the air or making a flower open and close. When Harry’s magic bursts out of him at the beginning of Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s to get away from bullies, save himself from humiliation, or get revenge against his unpleasant cousin, Dudley. Even later on in the series, he continues to produce involuntary magic when he is angry and upset. For instance, without waving a wand or casting a spell, he breaks his Aunt Marge’s glass and causes her to inflate like a balloon. He clearly is not an obscurial, and he wasn’t aware enough to become one, since the Dursleys put so much effort into making sure he doesn’t believe in magic. However, he is punished when strange things happen around him, and those strange things tend to happen only when he is angry or afraid, whereas for other magical children, they seem more spontaneous. He seems like the sort of child who could have easily become an obscurial if the Dursleys had gone a little further in their attempts to keep him from being a wizard.

Dangerous Shadow

Ariana Dumbledore has a lot in common with Credence Barebone. Like him, she actively tries to suppress her magic and wants nothing to do with it, but it escapes from her in violent outbursts. However, she was raised by a loving magical family and had only one negative encounter with muggles who harmed her because of her powers. She was traumatized, but she was not isolated or brainwashed. She lived longer than any obscurial can, according to Grindelwald (who knew her) and Newt Scamander (who knows Dumbledore), and she died when she was caught in the crossfire of a wizards’ duel, not from her obscurial nature. It seems like she may have had a weak form of obscurus, but that it was kept in check and did not consume her. Perhaps instead of an angry dark cloud, her obscurus was more like a dangerous shadow.

Full Obscurial

If Ariana’s loving family and her lack of long-term brainwashing helped her keep her obscurus under control, the opposite would happen for someone like Credence, who was raised by the Second Salemers. The proto-obscurus I described as a “dangerous shadow” would grow and grow, until it becomes the dark cloud of anger we see in Fantastic Beasts, which lashes out violently and eventually destroys the person it’s taken control of. According to both Newt and Grindelwald, no known obscurial has survived past the age of ten. (Since magic usually reveals itself by age seven, this means they only survive about three years after their obscurus forms). My theory is that, up until this point, the damage caused by the obscurus could be managed, if not reversed, and that only the most extreme cases would become full obscurials.

Super-Obscurial

Credence fits the “obscurial” description in almost every way. He was raised by a group dedicated to stamping out magic, abused by his adoptive mother, and must have been terrified when his magic started to reveal itself. He has hidden it so well that even he doesn’t seem to have any idea he’s a wizard. However, he’s the only obscurial known to have survived to adulthood, and he also has the most powerful obscurus Newt Scamander has ever seen. He manages to survive his full transformation and apparent death at the end of Fantastic Beasts. If anything, rather than making him frail and weak like Ariana, his obscurus seems to have made him nearly indestructible. I would guess we will learn more about what makes him so powerful in the next movie.

Understanding Literary Concepts Through Harry Potter: Foil Characters

Theme. Symbolism. Conflict. Plot structure. Mood and style. These terms are worth knowing, but they’re not always easy to understand – and I say that as someone who absolutely lived for English class from about eighth grade onwards. When you’re already struggling to understand the antiquated language of your very first Shakespeare play, the last thing you want to do is decide which characters are flat characters or round characters, because what does that even mean and how do I apply it? But when it comes down to it, these concepts don’t have to be difficult or confusing. They’re a natural and universal part of storytelling.

I have a vivid memory of one of my old English teachers doing a lesson on foil characters. At first, I remember being confused, but then he gave an example that I knew so well, the pieces suddenly fell into place. I felt as if I’d always known what foil characters were; I just didn’t know what they were called. The example he gave was Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy.

Just before winter break last year, it all came full circle. I taught a lesson on foil characters. I used an example from a book that the sixth graders were reading, but after I’d explained the concept, I asked them if they could think of any other characters they thought might be foils. For a moment, there was silence, but then a boy raised his hand and hesitantly offered that very same example. It was as if, just like for my younger self, they suddenly saw the pieces fall into place. All of a sudden, all the hands in the room were up. They had examples to give, questions to ask, aha! moments to share – and just like that, a new, intimidating concept didn’t seem quite so scary.

That gave me the idea for a blog series, and it seems only fitting that I should start with foil characters.


Foil characters draw the reader’s attention to each other’s traits by being the opposite. They are often similar at first glance, but their differences are more important than their similarities. Harry and Malfoy are pretty much a textbook example of foil characters. On the surface, they have a lot in common. They are both Hogwarts students, the same age and gender, and play the same position on their House Quidditch teams. However, beyond these surface-level similarities, they are polar opposites.

They both play Seeker, which means they are often opponents on the Quidditch pitch. They are in rival houses, with Harry having consciously chosen Gryffindor over Slytherin. Harry has two close friends, while Malfoy has two lackeys to do his bidding. He seems to have no true affection for Crabbe and Goyle and certainly doesn’t see them as his equals. Even in their appearance they are opposites, Harry with his messy hair and hand-me-down clothes, Malfoy with his slick, polished look and traditional wizard’s robes (or, in the movies, fancy suits).

Both were born into the roles that they play in the war. Harry is the Chosen One of the prophecy, the only one who can defeat Voldemort. He is targeted from a young age, his parents are killed, and he’s fighting Voldemort from the moment the dark wizard re-enters his life. Draco, on the other hand, is a Malfoy. He grows up idolizing Voldemort and wishing he would return, and he’s eager at first to join the Death Eaters, although he becomes disillusioned as the war goes on. Neither of them has much choice in the side that they choose, but it would be a mistake to say they don’t make choices. Harry chooses to fight on many occasions when it would be easier to run or hide, while Draco often chooses not to make a choice at all.

At the beginning of the series, Harry is an outsider to the magical world and spends much of his time as a passive observer, figuring things out as we do. He reacts to whatever the conflict of the book is, but he doesn’t see himself as a hero and tries to live a normal life. Voldemort’s return in Goblet of Fire is the turning point, when Harry realizes that a war is coming and he will have to be ready for it. He spends Order of the Phoenix training Dumbledore’s Army and attempting to convince the world that Voldemort is back, while he spends Half-Blood Prince learning Voldemort’s secret weaknesses and investigating Malfoy, who he’s convinced has joined the Death Eaters. By Deathly Hallows, he is no longer an observer or a reactive character. He is a hero on a quest and a soldier in a war.

Malfoy, on the other hand, starts off the series as an active antagonist. While Voldemort has always been the ultimate evil, it was Malfoy’s schemes, taunts, and bullying that Harry had to deal with on a daily basis. Yet as the series goes on, Malfoy becomes more of a nuisance than a real threat. His role in Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix is greatly diminished, he’s not all that successful as a Death Eater, and he’s totally unaware that he’s the master of the Elder Wand until after the fact. Just as Harry starts to become an active hero with a clearly-defined goal, Malfoy goes from being an enemy to an annoyance to little more than a pawn in other people’s schemes.

In Half-Blood Prince in particular, they are on parallel and yet opposite journeys. Both are taking a more direct role in the war, and both have been chosen to do what others on their side consider impossible: killing the leader of the opposing side. They both spend the year working to accomplish this, keeping it secret from all but a select few trusted people. However, while Dumbledore really does want to help Harry succeed and spends the year teaching him about Voldemort’s greatest weakness, it’s strongly implied that Voldemort chose Draco to punish his family for his father’s failure to retrieve the prophecy. He doesn’t care whether he succeeds and doesn’t expect him to.

In a way, you could say they were both chosen by Voldemort. The prophecy could have referred to either Harry or Neville, but Voldemort chose to attack the infant Harry and therefore handpicked the boy who would grow up to defeat him. Voldemort’s choices make a physical mark on both boys: while Draco is given the Dark Mark, branding him as Voldemort’s servant, Harry’s lightning scar is the fulfilment of the line in the prophecy that claims “The Dark Lord shall mark him as his equal”.

It comes down to a lot more than their positions on the Quidditch team or the fact that they are members of rival Houses. In fact, you could say that Harry represents Dumbledore and the Order among his peers, while Malfoy represents Voldemort and the Death Eaters. This larger-scale conflict at first plays out via Quidditch games and school rivalry, and as the kids get older, they themselves become part of the war they’ve already chosen sides in. Although by the end of the series, the rivalry between Harry and Draco is far from the most important battle being fought, it still symbolically represents the war in microcosm. It’s not a coincidence that Harry, having fought with Draco and taken his wand during the battle at Malfoy Manor, is then easily able to win his duel against Voldemort and therefore the war as a whole. Yes, there’s the Elder Wand explanation, but what it comes down to is that, symbolically, he’s already won.

Are there other examples of foil characters in Harry Potter? Certainly. Dudley is another foil to Harry, spoiled where Harry is neglected, greedy and selfish where Harry is generous and selfless, and – to an even greater extent than Malfoy – irrelevant and no longer threatening by the final books in the series. Hermione and Luna are foils to each other: one is the “brightest witch of her age”, but a Gryffindor who ultimately values courage and friendship more than knowledge, while the other is a Ravenclaw who is more perceptive, open-minded, and individualistic than book smart. The two often clash and disagree as if they were designed to be opposites, which they probably were. And then, of course, there’s the contrast between the two werewolves: the kindly, civilized Professor Lupin, who sees his condition as a curse, and the brutal Fenrir Greyback, who fully embraces it. However, Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy are probably the most intricate example of foil characters, with not just a few surface-level similarities to highlight opposite personalities, but contrasting plotlines and character journeys centering around a personal feud in which they are not just school rivals but symbols of opposite sides in the story’s main conflict.

Rosier Family Tree

Between Vinda Rosier from Crimes of Grindelwald and Felix from Hogwarts Mystery, the new material in the Wizarding world is making me think we need an official Rosier family tree. But, for lack of an official one, I’m going to do my best to work it out.

Let’s start with the youngest known family member and work backwards. Felix Rosier is about 2 years older than Bill Weasley, meaning he was born in 1968 or 69.  If this bit of dialogue in Hogwarts Mystery is to be believed, his father was “a top Death Eater”.

The past tense makes me think they meant for Evan Rosier, who is dead by this point, to be his father, but that doesn’t actually work.  Evan Rosier was one of Snape’s peers, and Snape was born in 1960, giving them an age difference of only 8 or 9 years. They could be brothers or cousins, but not father and son. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume they’re brothers and that the past tense is because Voldemort is no longer around. (Alternatively, both died during the war).

There are a few other notable members of the family. One is Druella Rosier, who married Cygnus Black. Another was one of Tom Riddle’s school peers who went on to become one of Voldemort’s first followers. To be near Tom Riddle’s age, he would have had to be born in the late 1920’s, around the time of the first Fantastic Beasts movie. I think it makes a lot of sense for the new character of Vinda Rosier in Crimes of Grindelwald to be his mother, although she could also be an aunt. Druella’s age is not given, but her husband was born in 1938; if she is near his age, she could be either a much younger sister or a cousin to the Rosier who was at school with Tom Riddle.

That character could easily be Evan and Felix’s father. He would have been in his mid-30’s when Evan was born and in his early 40’s when Felix was born if that’s the case. He could also be Felix’s grandfather if both he and his son had children in their early 20’s, although in that case Felix and Evan would probably be cousins, rather than brothers. And, of course, it’s also possible that he’s the father of one and the uncle of the other.

Or, in other words …

rosier family tree