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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Did Harry Apparate at Ten Years Old?

In the Harry Potter books, young witches and wizards who haven’t started learning magic yet often produce it without realizing exactly what they’re doing. Sometimes, it’s simple magic, like making flower petals open and close, or re-growing hair after an embarrassing haircut. However, sometimes young children produce magic that even adult wizards have trouble with. For example …

Levitation

“The girl had let go of the swing at the very height of its arc and flown into the air, quite literally flown, launching herself skyward with a great shout of laughter, and instead of crumpling on the playground asphalt, she soared like a trapeze artist through the air, staying up far too long, landing far too lightly” (Deathly Hallows 663)

While levitating objects is one of the first things Hogwarts students learn to do, levitating oneself is much more difficult. Very few wizards are capable of flying without a broom; only Voldemort and Snape are shown to do so, and everyone seems shocked that they can. And yet, young Lily Evans could already do something very similar.

Apparition

“Dudley’s gang had been chasing him as usual when, as much to Harry’s surprise as anyone else’s, there he was sitting on the chimney. The Dursleys had received a very angry letter from Harry’s headmistress telling them Harry had been climbing school buildings. But all he’d tried to do (as he shouted at Uncle Vernon through the locked door of his cupboard) was jump behind the big trash cans outside the kitchen doors” (Sorcerer’s Stone 25)

Apparition is like the wizarding equivalent of driving a car. You have to pass a test and get your license before you can do it outside of class, and you can’t take the test until you’re seventeen. And yet, that’s almost definitely what Harry did here. One minute, he’s trying to get away from Dudley’s gang, and the next, he’s magically disappeared and he’s up on the roof. Probably lucky he didn’t splinch himself, apparating without a clear destination in mind.

Vanishing spells

“One second, Piers and Dudley were leaning right up close to the glass, the next, they had leapt back with howls of horror. … The glass front of the boa constrictor’s tank had vanished” (Sorcerer’s Stone 28)

While not as extreme as some of the other examples, vanishing spells are not taught until fifth year at Hogwarts, and most of the students seem to have difficulty with them. Harry, just before his eleventh birthday, is able to vanish an enormous pane of glass. Of course, he doesn’t know what he’s doing yet.

Unforgivable Curses

“I can make animals do what I want them to do, without training them. I can make bad things happen to people who annoy me. I can make them hurt if I want to” (Half-Blood Prince 271)

Dumbledore tells young Tom Riddle that he’s been using his magic “in a way that is neither taught nor tolerated at our school” (273). What he doesn’t tell him is that an adult using one of these curses on a fellow human will almost always receive a life sentence in Azkaban for it. Curses like the Imperius and Cruciatus should be well beyond the abilities of a child just starting at Hogwarts, but Tom already seems to have learned how to make them happen on command.

Legilimency

“‘Tell the truth!’ He spoke the last three words with a ringing force that was almost shocking. It was a command, and it sounded as though he had given it many times before. His eyes widened and he was glaring at Dumbledore, who made no response except to continue smiling pleasantly” (Half-Blood Prince 269-70)

Only a skilled occlumens can lie to the adult Voldemort, and eleven-year-old Tom Riddle already seems accustomed to being able to demand the truth. It seems like he’s learned to tell whether others are lying to him, although reading Dumbledore’s mind is more difficult. Alternatively, he could be trying to use the Imperius curse, which would force Dumbledore to tell the truth in a different way.

Perhaps what Dumbledore tells Tom Riddle is the answer: “At Hogwarts … we teach you not only to use magic, but to control it” (273). Young children’s magic in the Harry Potter series is spontaneous and uncontrollable. It’s not the power they lack at such a young age, but the ability to use it in any kind of consistent way. Much like any real-world talent, the raw ability won’t amount to anything unless it’s studied and refined.