Warning: contains spoilers for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
A secret that author J.K. Rowling claims to have been keeping to herself for twenty years, Nagini is now one of the few characters to play a key role in both Wizarding World franchises, and fans have been clamouring to know more ever since her name was uttered in the trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
But who is she, and where does she fit into the franchise as a whole? Known primarily as Voldemort’s “right hand snake” during the Harry Potter books and films, she is now a figure we must reassess as the events of this prequel series unfold. As we take in the new information, then, we have the chance to look back at what we know about her so far.
Nagini is originally from Indonesia, or at least that’s what the posters in Circus Arcanus claim. Stopping in Paris in early 1927, Nagini was a main attraction – a Maledictus who could turn into a snake at will. We’re informed that a blood curse, which is passed down between mother and daughter, means that she will one day be unable to take human form.
Almost nothing of the character’s story between the events of The Crimes of Grindelwald and the Harry Potter series is known, so the job of future Fantastic Beasts films will be to fill in these gaps.
Nonetheless, while imprisoned at the circus she befriends Credence Barebone, who shares her outsider status due to the Obscurus living inside him. Like Nagini, this gives him both a power that he can’t control and a rapidly approaching death sentence.
Sometime after the pair are separated and Nagini escapes Grindelwald’s rally with Newt and his team to Hogwarts, Nagini turns into a snake permanently and meets another dark wizard – Voldemort. We don’t know as yet whether this meeting took place before the events of Harry Potter and prior to Voldemort’s first defeat, or whether she was recruited during his time as a phantom in Albania.
It’s likely it’s the latter because, as a parseltongue, it’s possible that Voldemort was the first person to communicate with Nagini for years or even decades. This would, of course, make her susceptible to manipulation even if it doesn’t explain her later actions in his name, and is why she retains her human name throughout the series. According to Dumbledore, Nagini was the only living thing Voldemort cared about.
In this version of events, shortly after meeting Voldemort, Nagini is turned into a Horcrux – a host for part of Voldemort’s soul that can only be created through an unspeakable act such as murder. Here it was Bertha Jorkins, who knew vital information about the Triwizard Tournament and status of Death Eater Barty Crouch Jr. (played by David Tennant in the films) ahead of Goblet of Fire. The information was extracted from her and she was then killed.
If there had been no Nagini, there would be no Voldemort and no second half of the Potter series, which puts her expanded role in Fantastic Beasts into new context. After becoming a Horcrux, Nagini’s venom was used to create the potion that sustained Voldemort in a temporary body (the gross foetus thing), making her the closest living thing to Voldemort during his life (ignoring Cursed Child).
The first time we see Nagini in the books and films is during the time that she, Voldemort and Peter Pettigrew were hiding out in the Riddle House at the start of Goblet of Fire. This means that her first act in the series is to help kill the innocent groundskeeper who had discovered them. At the end of that book, she was also present for Voldemort’s resurrection, and promised she would be able to eat Harry after the process. Yum.
There could be an argument that Nagini’s transformation into an animal meant that she no longer had so much control of her actions, but this is not entirely supported by the text. In Order of the Phoenix, for example, she was sent on a solo mission to the Ministry of Magic to investigate the prophecy room, during which she attacked and almost killed Arthur Weasley.
Interestingly, because of their joint status as living Horcruxes (the rest were objects), Harry was able to witness the attack from Nagini’s point of view in this instance. An alternative theory is that Voldemort had possessed her, thickening the plot again.
The final Potter story, Deathly Hallows, begins with another murder by Voldemort followed by dinner for Nagini, and continues to see Nagini impersonate Bathilda Bagshot via her corpse and some dark magic. Again, it’s unclear how much of these events of down to Nagini’s free will or Voldemort’s control of her, but tracking Harry’s connection to Voldemort throughout the series, it could be a mixture of both.
In the end, Nagini plays perhaps the most vital role in the finale than any other villain, killing Snape on Voldemort’s orders and then becoming the last Horcrux to be destroyed by Neville Longbottom. Once she is disposed of by the Sword of Gryffindor, Harry is free to defeat Voldemort and end the war.
(Un-ignoring Cursed Child for a moment, in an alternate reality Neville is murdered before he can kill Nagini, and so she lives.)
Nagini has now become a lightning rod character for fans due to her surprise identity, and could very well be the glue that holds the two franchises together. Will she be a tragic figure, living through Grindelwald’s reign only to be manipulated into serving his successor, or may we see her turn into a villain by some sort of betrayal? My guess? She’ll be Rowling’s excuse to slot a Tom Riddle cameo into film five.