Annie, Voldemort, & Orphanages: Were Sirius and Regulus Adopted Blacks?

A Guest Post from Randall Voigt inspired by watching Annie and reflecting on the curious relationships of the Dumbledores and Blacks in Rowling’s Wizarding World novels, screenplays, and play script: Enjoy!

Why This, Why Now?

My wife and I recently saw the Broadway musical, “Annie,” after having seen it decades ago.  Years after that first event, reading J.K. Rowling’s Half-Blood Prince, Ch. 13, about the London orphanage where Tom Riddle grew up, reminded me of Annie’s orphanage in the musical.  Seeing the play again, and hearing a church sermon about assumptions and expectations (using the film, “The Sixth Sense” as an example), got me thinking (“a dangerous pastime” – “I know”).

Recent Information (From the Past) Concerning Memory

In Rowling’s first Fantastic Beasts screenplay, Sc. 120, Jacob Kowalski is supposed to be Obliviated.  But in Crimes of Grindelwald, Sc. 35, Jacob reminds Newt Scamander that the Obliviating potion “only erases bad memories.”  So, Jacob remembers many of the events of Beasts.  In Secrets of Dumbledore, Sc. 46, Grindelwald extracts Yusuf Kama’s memory of his sister, Leta Lestrange, because Yusuf holds Grindelwald responsible for Leta’s death.  But, Yusuf seems to signal to Queenie Goldstein that he still has some memory of Leta, and that he will act against Grindelwald.  Yusuf does so, later in Secrets.  Maybe this is important in “Harry Potter” – about which, more in a minute.

The London Orphanage

Rowling describes the orphanage matron, Mrs. Cole, as “sharp” but “no novice to gin drinking.”  Mrs. Cole seems to be something like Miss Hannigan, who is in charge of the orphanage where Annie lives at the start of the musical.  Mrs. Cole may be kinder:  Rowling writes that she is “harassed-looking” and “more anxious than unkind” (Prince, Ch. 6).  Mrs. Cole certainly seems to be a nicer person than Mary Lou Barebone at her Second Salem Church (Beasts, Sc. 30). 

Mrs. Cole tells Dumbledore that she thinks Tom Riddle hung “Billy Stubbs’s rabbit,” and that “Amy Benson and Dennis Bishop were never quite right” after Tom led them into a seaside cave.  For a while now, I have wondered if the orphan Amy Benson might be the same person as Amelia Bones, present as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at Harry Potter’s Ministry hearing (Phoenix, Ch. 7) and later killed, about which Minister Fudge says, “We think [Voldemort] may have murdered her in person …. (Prince, Ch. 1).”  

But, isn’t the London institution a Muggle orphanage?  Maybe some things point to it’s not being so, or not entirely so. 

  • First, suppose that Amy Benson is the same person as Amelia Bones (see above). 
  • Second, notice Dumbledore’s sense of ease at the orphanage:  twice (in front of Mrs. Cole and in front of Tom), Dumbledore does magic “in a building full of Muggles,” apparently without feeling the need to “be cautious.” 
  • Third, note that Dumbledore tells Tom, “I shall know” whether Tom has returned the stolen trinkets (Prince, Ch. 13).  It seems that Dumbledore will know in the same way he implies when he tells Harry that he has “watched you more closely than you can have imagined,” (Phoenix, Ch. 37) and as Harry threatens his son, Albus:  “I will fix you with a spell which will allow me eyes and ears into your every movement, your every conversation” (Cursed Child, Pt. 1, Act 2, Sc. 8).
  • Fourth, perhaps Dumbledore’s telling Mrs. Cole, “[Tom] will have to return here, at the very least, every summer” (Prince, Ch. 13) indicates that Tom has protection at the orphanage similar to Harry’s at the Dursley house (Phoenix, Ch. 37).  Dumbledore says that “Merope refused to raise her wand even to save her own life,” but in counter to Harry’s question, “[s]he wouldn’t even stay alive for her son?” Dumbledore asserts that Merope “had a choice.”  So, maybe Merope gave her son protection by sacrificing herself to get him to the orphanage and identify him to Mrs. Cole. But then, who is Tom’s blood relative at the orphanage (Mrs. Cole, not much younger than Merope?), and from whom does he need protection?
  • Fifth, less convincing, the orphanage has “stone stairs” (Prince, Ch. 13), more like a wizard house or building than a Muggle one.

Sirius Black’s Identity

Along with wondering about Amy Benson, I’ve also wondered about Sirius Black’s identity. 

Rowling gives us our first glimpse of Sirius in Severus Snape’s memory, which Harry views in the Pensieve:  On the train to Hogwarts, Sirius tells James Potter, “My whole family have been in Slytherin,” and James replies, “Blimey … I thought you seemed all right!”  James’s impression is correct:  the Sorting Hat puts Sirius in Gryffindor (Hallows, Ch. 33).  We learn in Phoenix, Chapter 6, that Sirius runs away from home at age 16 and goes to live with the Potter family.  When Harry explores Sirius’s bedroom in the Black house, he finds that before Sirius leaves home, he seems “to have gone out of his way to annoy his parents …. [and] to underline his difference from all the rest of the Slytherin family.”  Sirius decorates his room with Gryffindor banners, “pictures of Muggle motorcycles,” and “posters of bikini-clad Muggle girls” (Hallows, Ch. 10).

So, could Sirius be Muggle-born, adopted by the Black family from the orphanage?  Perhaps the information on memory from Fantastic Beasts mentioned above might fit here.  Maybe the Blacks extract Sirius’s memory of the orphanage, to make him think that he was born into the family – but maybe doing so fails to change his gut feeling of being Muggle-born, and also fails to change his character.  Kreacher says that Sirius “was a nasty ungrateful swine,” he remarks “how [Mrs. Black] hated him, what a disappointment he was,” and he says that “[Mrs. Black] swore he was no son of hers.”  Sirius tells Harry, “I hated the whole lot of them,” “[a]s far as I’m concerned, they’re not my family,” and “I never thought I’d be stuck in this house again” (Phoenix, Ch. 6).  Maybe Sirius is a biological Black and a rebel, but perhaps he is an unhappy adopted child in an unsuccessful adoption.  

Red Herrings or Clues?

Kingsley Shacklebolt gives Arthur Weasley an issue of The Quibbler magazine, for Sirius to read.  Arthur says, “I’m sure Sirius will find that very amusing.”  Soon after, Harry reads what is presumably (but not definitely) the same issue, specifically one of the magazine’s headlines that blares, “SIRIUS – Black As He’s Painted?”  The article quotes a person named Doris Purkiss (no background given) as saying, “Sirius Black is a false name …. [he] is actually Stubby Boardman” (Phoenix, Ch. 7).  We could dismiss The Quibbler as tabloid trash, except that the name Stubby Boardman might be a version of Billy Stubbs.  (It may be silly, but could there be a reference to these names in “[h]is hair is as dark as a blackboard” from Harry’s singing valentine in Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 13?)

Could Sirius be “painted” black by being reputed to be a multiple murderer, or be “painted” black by being portrayed as or assumed to be a member of the Black family?  Note how even Dumbledore remarks that the magical media are “bound to report the truth occasionally … if only accidentally” (Phoenix, Ch. 17).  Also, in Phoenix, Chapter 36, Bellatrix Lestrange refers to Sirius as “the Animagus Black” – could she be (unintentionally?) revealing that Sirius only appears to be a Black?

Four Notes

Thinking about why Voldemort murders Amelia Bones, one obvious reason is that she is a key official in the Ministry (Harry even fills her post in Cursed Child, Pt. 1, Act 1, Sc. 5).  Another reason could be that she treats Harry fairly during his Ministry hearing and votes against his being convicted (Phoenix, Ch. 8).  A third reason could be Voldemort’s “contempt for anything that [ties] him to other people, anything that [makes] him ordinary” (Phoenix, Ch. 13).  Amelia possibly having a memory of abuse by Tom Riddle could be a link to Voldemort’s past.  The same might apply as part of Voldemort’s motivation for killing the Riddles, and framing his uncle Morfin for the crime, which leads to Morfin’s death (Prince, Ch. 17).

What should we think about Sirius’s younger brother, Regulus?  Regulus starts life as a loyal Black and becomes a Death Eater (Phoenix, Ch. 6).  But then, Kreacher returns from the seaside cave.  Regulus becomes “strange … disturbed in his mind,” exchanges the lockets, sacrifices himself, and orders Kreacher to destroy the (Horcrux) locket (Hallows, Ch. 10).  Regulus leaves a note telling Voldemort that “I face death in the hope that when you meet your match, you will be mortal once more” (Prince, Ch. 28).  The American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th Edition, 2010 states that a “regulus” is a “relatively impure intermediate product of various ores in smelting.” 

All this is ambiguous:  Regulus may be a sincere Death Eater until discovering Voldemort’s Horcrux changes his heart.  Or, maybe Regulus is adopted like Sirius, secretly feels the same way Sirius does, but acts as a loyal Black out of sibling rivalry with Sirius?  Perhaps Regulus naively thinks he can survive being a temporary Death Eater, or joins with the intent to be a saboteur, or plans his actions together with Sirius (joining at the same time that Sirius leaves home)?

Thinking thoughts like all the above, sometimes I tell myself that I’m trying to tie together unrelated bits of the text.  But then I remember that Rowling seems to invite and encourage readers to do so:  For example, consider Harry speaking to Dumbledore, asking “But you didn’t really trust [Tom Riddle], sir, did you?  He told me [that] ‘Dumbledore never seemed to like me as much as the other teachers did’” (Prince, Ch. 17).  Also, consider how Dumbledore quotes Harry, who in turn is quoting Voldemort claiming to have gone “further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality” (Prince, Ch. 23).

Lastly, please note that near the end of “Annie,” Miss Hannigan begs Annie to “tell these people how good I’ve always been to ya, huh?”  Annie replies, “I would, but the one thing you always taught me was ‘Never tell a lie.’” (tvtropes.org)  In the Phoenix movie, but not the book, Dolores Umbridge begs Harry to “Do something!  Tell them I mean no harm!” and Harry replies, “Sorry, professor.  I must not tell lies.”  Having forgotten this parallel, it’s fun to be reminded of it.

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