The Dark Lord. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. You-Know-Who. Lord Voldemort. The arch-villain of J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series has been given many creepy monikers, but he was once known merely as Tom Marvolo Riddle, born in 1926 to Tom and Merope Riddle. Though Tom Riddle Sr. came from a wealthy family, his son grew up in poverty after his father walked out on his wife and child, and Merope lost her life shortly after giving birth. Tom Riddle Jr. ended up in Wool's Orphanage in London, raised by Muggles. There, his magical powers began to manifest. He discovered he could move things with his mind, talk to snakes and set things on fire with just a thought, which he used to torment other children. When Albus Dumbledore visited the orphanage in the late '30s, he found great wizarding potential in Tom, but also the potential for great darkness.
Despite this, Tom started his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry soon after, under the watchful eye of Dumbledore. Though he proved himself to be an exemplary student, his charisma masked a nature that was becoming more and more twisted. While at Hogwarts, Tom opened the Chamber of Secrets to set Salazar Slytherin's Basilisk on Muggle-born students, and learned how to prolong his life indefinitely by splitting his soul and attaching the fragments to different objects called Horcruxes. As Voldemort, he would go on to do this eight times, ensuring his survival even after his body was destroyed in 1981 when he attempted to destroy against the person prophesied to stop him: Harry Potter; an experience that would irrevocably change them both.
The wizarding world of Harry Potter is a relatively small one, so while it's not unrealistic that The Boy Who Lived and his arch nemesis share some DNA, it's still surprising given their status as fated rivals. Harry and Voldemort are already bound by the "neither can live while the other survives" prophecy as well as Harry accidentally becoming Voldemort's eighth Horcrux.
Their common ancestry comes from the Peverell brothers, who, according to legend, became masters of the Deathly Hallows in the 13th century. The Gaunts -- Voldemort's maternal family -- were descended from Cadmus Peverell, owner of the Resurrection Stone, while descendants of Ignotus Peverell, owner of the Cloak of Invisibility, are marked by their inheritance of said cloak.
When Harry ran into an echo of Voldemort's past in the Chamber of Secrets during his second year at Hogwarts, the ghost of Tom Riddle claimed he was Salazar Slytherin's heir, proven by his dominion over Slytherin's blood-thirsty pet that lurked inside it. Some may think this is a figure of speech and Voldemort was just professing his fanboy love of the creator of Slytherin House.
But, Tom Riddle didn't just admire the Hogwarts founder, he really was Slytherin's heir -- through his mother's bloodline. Just like his descendant, Salazar Slytherin was considered to be one of the most powerful wizards of his age; skilled in both Parseltongue and Legilimency, and the originator of Voldemort's hatred of Muggles.
The House of Gaunt may have the prestigious blood of Salazar Slytherin running through their veins, but they were considered to be shadows of their ancestor's glory. They squandered their sizeable inheritances on living like the royalty they considered themselves to be, driving Voldemort's mother's family into destitution; looked down on by the other pure-blood wizarding families.
This branch of the Gaunt family also took Slytherin's obsession with purity way too far. They refused to stray outside of their own family to create new heirs, preferring to marry their own cousins and keep Slytherin's gifts undiluted. While this did ensure that his Parseltongue ability was passed on, the downsides -- physical and mental impairments -- contributed to their fall from grace.
According to a quote from J.K Rowling from 1999, we've all been mispronouncing Voldemort's name for years. At a book signing in the Whale of Tale Children's Bookshoppe in Irvine, California, the author was asked by a young fan: "Is it Voldemort? Or Voldemor?" The author told them that she preferred "Voldemor," but admitted she was the only one who did.
Given how long ago this was, it was presumed to be dead canon for years. However, in 2015 the author reaffirmed her preference for the dropping of the "T" on Twitter. Though it'll never catch on at this point, Rowling's version does fall in line with the French interpretation of his name: "Flight/theft of death," a language she's fluent in.
Like his ancestor, Salazar Slytherin, Voldemort has a keen hatred of witches and wizards who aren't pure-blooded. These are either half-bloods, a magical family with Muggle ancestry, or Muggle-born witches and wizards, like Hermione Granger. Racial supremacy is something valued by other families like the Malfoys, but Voldemort took it to the extreme.
The sad irony of his beliefs is that he himself is a half-blood -- born to a Muggle father and a pure-blood witch. The incestuous nature of his mother's family to preserve purity coupled with a loveless childhood instilled a self-hatred in Voldemort that helped fuel his fanatical prejudice. Though he claimed his lineage was pure, the truth ate away at him.
Like many great supervillains, Voldemort has prodigious command of the most powerful thing in his world: magic. In Harry Potter, the mark of a great witch or wizard is their ability to perform magic with as little aid as possible. That means without the flick of a wand or the utterance of a spell. At that level, using magic is practically instinctual.
Voldemort demonstrated numerous times that he could telekinetically move objects and people, as well as using the darkest curses non-verbally. The huge Fiendfyre snake he used against Dumbledore during the Battle of the Department of Mysteries was created, amazingly, without a single word or wand stroke.
Magic in Harry Potter allows witches and wizards to do almost anything -- from teleporting, to healing to turning back time. But there are limits to their powers. Usually, incantations or potions are essential for advanced magic, like a Polyjuice potion for impersonating someone or draining someone's life with the "Avada Kedavra" curse.
Voldemort had the rare ability to perform the Killing Curse non-verbally with enough concentration, and that wasn't the only thing he achieved without the use of a vocalized incantation. The law of magic dictates that flight can only be achieved with the use of a flying charm, but Voldemort could zip through the air instantly without saying a word.
Voldemort shared a lot of traits with his singular magical equal, Albus Dumbledore. Both had a knowledge and concept of magic that was unparalleled by any other living witch or wizard; both sought the fabled Deathly Hallows and gained possession of the Elder Wand, and both were really good at controlling fire.
Dumbledore's affinity for the element was symbolized in his choice of pet -- Fawks the Phoenix. The bird's regenerative abilities also represent rebirth, and Dumbledore usually only used things like the Firestorm charm defensively. For the Dark Lord, however, fire was only ever used to inflict pain, with the size and ferocity of Voldemort's rage fuelling the size and ferocity of his magical flames.
Legilimency is the magical equivalent of telepathy or mind-reading, though those terms don't adequately explain the full scope of what those who master the art can do. A Legilimen can dive into a person's thoughts and memories and even alter what they find there. If the person whose mind is being invaded is proficient in Occlumency, they might be able to stop them.
Because of the twisted possibilities of this practice, Voldemort used it a lot to extract hidden information from his enemies, mentally torture his victims or even cover up his own crimes. In his younger years, he covered up several murders -- including his father and grandparents' -- by implanting the memory of the act into someone else, who then took the blame.
One of the least-known flaws of Voldemort's is his obsessive personality, bordering on the compulsive. As a child, Tom Riddle was something of a hoarder, a habit that inspired him to collect the precious objects he would use to turn into Horcruxes. His fixations on the Deathly Hallows, Harry Potter and carrying out Salazar Slytherin's pure-blood agenda trumped all else.
This observation isn't just interpretative, either. As Harry and Voldemort's mental link grew stronger, Harry's window into his rival's head revealed the same images popping up again and again -- things Voldemort just couldn't stop dwelling on. Harry ended up using this compulsion to find and destroy one of the missing Horcruxes: Ravenclaw's diadem.
It's no accident that Voldemort is a descendant of Cadmus Peverell, one of the medieval wizarding brothers who wanted to outwit the Grim Reaper by controlling the Deathly Hallows. After losing his wife, Cadmus used the Resurrection Stone to bring his love back, only to find she was a ghost of her former self, and in refusing to accept mortality, Cadmus suffered a tragic end.
Voldemort similarly longed for the Stone, but for his own use. He not only knew immortality would cement his status, but he was actively afraid of his inevitable end -- a pathological fear called thanatophobia. We know this was his ultimate fear because J.K Rowling revealed in a 2005 interview that his Boggart would take the form of his own corpse.
The art of raising the dead is considered to be the darkest magic in any fictional world, and Harry Potter is no exception -- hence the cautionary, "The Tale Of Three Brothers" story. Usually those who mess with the natural order of things are not the nicest of people, so naturally Voldemort has had a bony hand in doing just that, evidenced by the Inferi horde guarding one of his Horcruxes.
Inferi are reanimated corpses, and Voldemort is the only known wizard to have ever made and used them (though Gallert Grindleward may have also managed it.) The creatures proved their mettle when Dumbledore and Harry struggled to fend off an army of them while retrieving Regulas Black's locket.
As we saw in The Chamber of Secrets, Voldemort wasn't always the pale-skinned, nose-less monster he became. Tom Riddle was not only a normal-looking human boy, but he was pretty easy on the eyes, too. Harry's glimpse of him at an even younger age via the Pensieve revealed him to be: "tall for eleven years old, dark-haired and pale."
Luckily for Tom, he didn't inherit any of his maternal family's inbred deformities, taking after his attractive Muggle father instead. Tom was well aware of his physical charms, using his natural charisma to get what he wanted out of people until his continued dabbling in the Dark Arts -- including splitting his soul -- began to erode it all away.
In the film adaptations, the final body that Voldemort ends up in after returning to full power is pretty accurate to the one described in the source material. Both share the same white skin, reddish eyes, dark robes, hairless-ness and -- the most distinctive feature -- two, snake-like slits where a normal human nose should be. It's definitely not the look of the hero of the story.
There are some key omissions, however, that would have made his live-action portrayal even more unsettling. His pupils were dark red and looked feline; his body was "skeletally thin;" he had no lips; his fingers were freakishly long and spidery, with pointed, blue fingernails. Lastly, his voice was described as being high-pitched and sometimes "sibilant" -- like a snake's.
In Harry Potter, the finality of mortality is greatly warped by the existence of ghosts and haunted paintings. Through his Horcrux creations, Voldemort was able to cheat the process altogether by ensuring that even after his body was gone, his soul lived on, waiting to be returned to a new physical vessel. Once his Horcruxes were eliminated though, the Dark Lord was vulnerable again.
When Voldemort was hit by his own deflected Killing Curse, his meddling with the natural order of things prevented his twisted soul from being able to move on to the afterlife. Instead, he became condemned to live an in-between plane of existence (that Harry saw as King's Cross Station) tethered to a tiny, withered body for the rest of eternity.
After Voldemort's attempt to slay Harry as a baby was thwarted by Lilly Potter using herself as a human shield, Voldemort was left bodiless. Abandoned by most of his followers who thought he'd perished, his incorporal form fled to the forests of Albania where he could plot his restoration. The one advantage of this form was that he could saddle himself to other living creatures.
Naturally, his Parseltongue skills led him to inhabit snakes, which is how he had his meet-cute with Nagini. At some point, he was discovered by the hapless Quirinus Quirrell, and took advantage of his weak mind to possess him, physically manifesting on the back of the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher's head, which the Professor hid under a turban.
Voldermort's time piggy-backing on Quirrell's head was cut short by a 12-year old Harry's intervention in The Sorcerer's Stone. After losing his chance at being physically revived by the Stone, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named fled once more to start from scratch on his resurrection plan. Fortunately, he was eventually reunited with an old follower: Petter Pettigrew.
Determined to prove his doggish loyalty, the Death Eater managed -- under his master's instruction -- to perform a ritual, creating a temporary body for Voldemort while he waited to be fully restored. The body was described as "hairless, scaly-looking, a dark, raw, reddish black" and the size of a child. Worse was the potion he drank to sustain the form: snake venom, unicorn blood and something "indescribably" awful.
Getting your body back from beyond the grave is always a tricky task. After years of possessing animals and then living in a creepy baby-body, the Dark Lord finally made a full recovery in The Goblet of Fire. The ritual performed by his right-hand man, Peter Pettigrew (aka "Wormtail") required the brewing of a potion with some very specific and very gross ingredients.
"Bone of the father, unknowingly given, you will renew your son. Flesh of the servant, willingly given, you will revive your master. Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken, you will resurrect your foe." Along with Tom Riddle Sr.'s bones and Harry's blood, Pettigrew added his own hand to the dark potion -- the finishing touch for his master's patchwork body.
The circumstances of Voldemort's birth are as joyless and manipulative as the way he chose to live his own life. His mother, Merope Gaunt, fell for Tom Riddle Sr., a rich muggle man who lived in the same village as her poverty-stricken wizarding family. His disinterest in her meant their eventual union was held in suspicion by their neighbors.
Those neighbors were right: Merope bewitched Tom into marrying and having a child with her, theorized to be via a love potion by Dumbledore or -- even more sinister -- the Imperius Curse by Harry. Once Merope lifted her hold, a furious Tom left her and their son. The loveless way Voldemort was born preempted his critical inability to understand or value the emotion later in life.
Those who have read or seen The Cursed Child, J.K Rowling's follow-up to the Harry Potter series, will be well aware already of this icky fact: Voldemort has a daughter. Delphini was concieved at some point before the Battle of Hogwarts in 1998, where both of her parents -- Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange -- perished.
Voldemort was, well, basically a cross between a skeleton and snake shoved into a human body at that point, so while Delphini's existence is now common knowledge, the thought of Bellatrix jumping into bed with that isn't an image any Potter-nerd wants to think about too much. (Or ever.) Of all Voldemort's strange powers, the fact he was capable of something as natural as procreation might be the most surprising.