If it will be helpful to anyone, here is Tom Riddle/Voldemort's timeline from the HP Lexicon.

Okay, my math is generally terrible, but if Hogwarts was established approximately 1000 years prior to Harry Potter becoming a student there, that would place the founding of the school around 990-991, correct? My calculations indicate 947-948 years went by before Tom Riddle became a student at Hogwarts in what I believe would be 1938. Tom Riddle's date of birth is listed as December 31, 1926.

Why Was Tom Riddle the "true" Heir of Slytherin? Why did it take over 900+ years after the founding of Hogwarts for the "true" Heir of Slytherin to be born?

Seeing as there were centuries of procreation between the time Salazar Slytherin was alive until Tom Riddle's birth, why did it take until 1926 for Slytherin's true heir to be born?

Is the implication that the true Heir of Slytherin had to imbue certain qualities that Tom Riddle possessed? If so, how does this reflect on Salazar Slytherin? Does this imply that Slytherin himself was -- as Fred and George would put it -- a Seriously Evil Wizard™ who wanted his true heir to be just as corrupt?

Or does being the Heir of Slytherin merely mean the heir is the last witch or wizard to carry Salazar Slytherin's bloodline?

Related question by DVK: Was Salazar Slytherin a Dark Wizard?

  • personally i agree with you. but have you tried tracing his family tree? mabey that could tell you the true heir of slytherin.
    – user6012
    Apr 25, 2012 at 22:44

5 Answers 5


So in other words, you are asking whether true heir means the youngest (or maybe oldest) current living descendant (Or in Harry's case, horcrux of a descendant)? Or whether it has some other qualification?

Might that qualification have been that he actually went to Hogwarts? How many of Slytherin's descendants have gone to Hogwarts? I can't remember off of the top of my head, but I don't recall that the Gaunt family ever went to Hogwarts. If they didn't, who was the last person of Slytherin's descendants to attend the school besides Slytherin himself? Merope was a squib, so certainly she did not attend Hogwarts. Did Marvolo? Morfin?

That is a very large portion of the timeline we don't have to access to. It might even be possible that an heir used the Chamber of secrets within that portion of the timeline, but it never became publicly known (No deaths). If so, that would imply that there can be more than one true heir.

Side note: Do you have the book and chapter for the reference to calling Tom the true heir. I'm assuming it's Chamber of Secrets?

Edit: I might take a look at the word heir instead of true. In this case, I would think this is the best fit definition: a person or group considered as inheriting the tradition, talent, etc., of a predecessor.

Tom inherits the Chamber of Secrets, the basilisk, and the power of parseltongue. But parseltongue is the key to them all. Without this intangible power, none of the other material things could be used.

Since there is no governing body to determine who gets the inheritance, I would say that anyone eligible (all descendants) could be considered an heir while the one who actually gets it (where the governing body is fate, magical genetics, or whatever) is the true heir. The lack of governing body to determine the inheritance of such an intangible power would allow for such a distinction.

Of course, we know more than one person inherits parseltongue, so I would go back to the true heir meaning the one who actually used the other two things he inherited.

  • 24
    Merope Gaunt was not a Squib; Dumbledore explains to Harry that Merope's magic was probably suppressed due to the constant abuse she endured. Salazar Slytherin did not leave a will leaving the Chamber of Secrets and the Basilisk to Tom Riddle (who was to be born 900+ years later). Tom Riddle searched for the rumored Chamber of Secrets for five years before discovering it. The Ministry of Magic has the right to review wills and inheritances, as they did with Dumbledore's will. Unfortunately, this answer is inconsistent with Harry Potter canon. Apr 26, 2012 at 0:10
  • From the Chamber of Secrets - when Professor Binns explains the legend of the CoS: "Slytherin wished to be more selective about the students admitted to Hogwarts. He believed that magical learning should be kept within all-magic families. He disliked taking students of Muggle parentage, believing them to be untrustworthy. After a while, there was a serious argument on the subject between Slytherin and Gryffindor, and Slytherin left the school." - That tells me Tom Riddle being a half-blood would not have been expected by Slytherin to attend Hogwarts in the first place - let alone be his heir.
    – mustard
    Apr 30, 2014 at 6:40
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    Based on what little we know of Slytherin's personality, I would offer this... his heirs are those of his blood, his TRUE heir not only shares his blood, but his beliefs and his will... a true offspring in mind, body, and spirit Jan 16, 2015 at 17:16
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    but I don't recall that the Gaunt family ever went to Hogwarts. I don't believe it was in the books but Rowling wrote about it on Pottermore in her writing about the Chamber of Secrets: pottermore.com/writing-by-jk-rowling/chamber-of-secrets The Gaunt family couldn't help but boast about their knowledge.
    – Pryftan
    Apr 10, 2018 at 1:48

I agree with Pureferret. It wasn't that Tom Riddle was pre-destined to be The One True Heir, despite what he himself thought.

He was "A heir". Anyone able to speak Parseltongue, figure out the entrance to a Chamber, and embodying Slytherin's dislike for Muggle-borns would fit the bill - even Ginny Weasley under the influence of a diary did a pretty darn good job.

  • 1
    It's interesting to me that all three answers I got on this question don't mention Tom Riddle's blood relation to Salazar Slytherin. :) Apr 26, 2012 at 0:18
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    @Slytherincess - Because Heir is frequently meant without implying blood descendancy? Apr 26, 2012 at 1:04
  • 2
    That's a good point. In this case we do know Tom Riddle is a blood-related descendant of Salazar Slytherin, though. It seems possibly relevant to the big picture. Apr 26, 2012 at 13:44
  • Of the 4 people that opened the CoS in the books, 3 of them were Griffindors (Harry, Ginny and Ron)
    – Andrew
    Apr 25, 2014 at 16:13
  • Tom Riddle wasn't pre-destined to be the One True Heir any more than Harry Potter was pre-destined to be his equal. Which is to say, in both cases he had to make a choice in order to inherit or determine how the prophecy would be fulfilled.
    – user11521
    Apr 28, 2014 at 21:48

Tom was a Parselmouth - he wasn’t the true heir, he was a heir.

The reason that Tom Riddle was able to open the Chamber of Secrets was simply because he could speak Parseltongue. Harry was also able to open it, and so was Ginny (though they both had a connection with him at the time, Harry through the piece of soul in him, Ginny because she was being possessed by Tom Riddle). Even Ron, who had absolutely no connection with the Dark Lord and didn’t have the natural ability to speak Parseltongue, was able to open the Chamber by imitating what Harry said to open it.

“But how did you get in there?’ he asked, staring from the fangs to Ron. ‘You need to speak Parseltongue!’

‘He did!’ whispered Hermione. ‘Show him, Ron!’

Ron made a horrible, strangled hissing noise. ‘It’s what you did to open the locket,’ he told Harry apologetically. ‘I had to have a few goes to get it right, but,’ he shrugged modestly, ‘we got there in the end.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 31 (The Battle of Hogwarts)

The J.K. Rowling Pottermore writing further indicates that the key to being able to open the Chamber of Secrets was indeed the ability to speak Parseltongue.

What is certain is that by the time Slytherin was forced out of the school by the other three founders, he had decided that henceforth, the Chamber he had built would be the lair of a monster that he alone – or his descendants – would be able to control: a Basilisk. Moreover, only a Parselmouth would be able to enter the Chamber. This, he knew, would keep out all three founders and every other member of staff.

In addition, it statess that the Chamber of Secrets had in fact been opened by others since Salazar Slytherin’s death and before Tom Riddle opened it.

There is clear evidence that the Chamber was opened more than once between the death of Slytherin and the entrance of Tom Riddle in the twentieth century. When first created, the Chamber was accessed through a concealed trapdoor and a series of magical tunnels.

This is further proof that Tom Riddle wasn’t the only true heir - descendants of Salazar Slytherin before him had indeed opened the Chamber of Secrets.

Tom believed he was the “true Heir” because he was arrogant.

Tom Riddle did believe himself (and Harry, once he found out about him) to be the only Parselmouth to attend Hogwarts after Salazar Slytherin.

“Because there are strange likenesses between us, Harry Potter. Even you must have noticed. Both half-bloods, orphans, raised by Muggles. Probably the only two Parselmouths to come to Hogwarts since the great Slytherin himself. We even look something alike …”
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 17 (The Heir of Slytherin)

However, this is less likely to be based in fact rather than Tom’s own grand thoughts about his importance, and relative lack of knowledge about his ancestors.

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    Great answer as always Miss Bella! I do hope that the sibilance In addition, it statess was intentional but even if not it's a good accident. Other than that there isn't much to say - he made a lot of assumptions many of which caused him a lot of problems. He certainly was an heir but the fact he wasn't the only one to open the Chamber of Secrets means it's not a matter of a 'true' heir at least in the sense of only one.
    – Pryftan
    Apr 10, 2018 at 1:59
  • @Pryftan Thanks a lot! :) I’m glad you noticed, I’ve started trying to learn Parseltongue! ;) Indeed, Tom Riddle did have a tendency to assume things especially regarding his own talents. He was definitely a heir, both by blood and ability to speak Parseltongue, but he wasn’t the only one like he’d thought.
    – Obsidia
    Apr 10, 2018 at 2:08
  • The funny thing is Pottermore has an article where they suggest practising Parseltongue. And it's really not all that hard to make the noises although I suppose snakes won't understand it. Might scare your neighbours though - or make them question your sanity? And I'm glad it was intentional too. I notice spelling errors everywhere including books and other places that you'd like to believe it wouldn't have been missed. Errors of other types too including inconsistencies. But humans are imperfect after all.
    – Pryftan
    Apr 10, 2018 at 20:58

He was the True Heir because he was able to open the chamber of secrets. I don't think it was a forgone conclusion that he was the Heir, and it could have been anyone. Had another Heir of Slytherin had turned up before then it would have worked jut as easily.

But Salazar knew his heir would know Parsel tongue (magical genetics) and dark magic (most likely). Though it probably took someone with a dark twisted upbringing to put as much effort as he could into being dark and twisted. But there's no reason I can think of that this could have been anyone else. It's not as though anyone in the HP universe is going to to a genetic test on potential heirs.

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    Isn't this circular reasoning? The CoS will open for the true heir and because he could open it, he's the true heir?
    – Tango
    Mar 13, 2012 at 15:16
  • 1
    @TangoOversway I'm only saying he's the true heir because he could open it. In fact what I'm saying is there is no predestined heir, it could be anyone.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Mar 13, 2012 at 18:28
  • Okay -- got it now.
    – Tango
    Mar 13, 2012 at 18:46
  • If there's no predestined heir, what does Tom Riddle's genetic relation to Salazar Slytherin stand for? Is it important or irrelevant? I'm not sure about the Dark Magic aspect -- how do we know Salazar Slytherin was a Dark Wizard? :) Apr 26, 2012 at 0:14
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    He wasn't the first Slytherin who could open it and so how can you say that he's the 'true' heir? He was an heir but that doesn't mean he was the only does it?
    – Pryftan
    Apr 10, 2018 at 2:00

See but there's one thing that was only touched on. Tom had to LOOK for the CoS. He didn't just find it. He SEARCHED for it for five whole years. Its not just a question of eligibility or blood lines, but DEDICATION to finding a perfect means to kill mud bloods. To perfecting parlsotounge to the point where they can not only command a basilisk, but convince it that they are worthy of following.

  • There's no "perfecting" Parseltongue, as far as I know; Harry was able to speak it perfectly well without putting any effort into it. He didn't even realise he -was- speaking it, even. Feb 13, 2014 at 19:10
  • Just like he didn't realize he was dropping into Voldemort's head. The Parseltongue isn't something he came by naturally, so I don't think we can use him as a sound basis for it. And there's also no indication that ALL snakes will just obey someone just because they speak instinctive Parseltongue. Magical creatures, such as basilisks could have higher intelligence and autonomy. Feb 14, 2014 at 21:50
  • @MadamCravenclaw So you don't think Voldemort who could possess them couldn't control them? Okay that's not the speaking with snakes and perhaps Voldemort has more of an affinity with snakes than any others but that being said there isn't any perfecting it - it was natural. But there is an easy explanation of why he had to search it: he didn't grow up with the Gaunt family; he grew up in an orphanage so he had to dedicate himself. He certainly wasn't the only one to open it it's just he was the one to unleash the Basilisk within it.
    – Pryftan
    Apr 10, 2018 at 1:53

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