It seems to be implied that Tom Riddle actually controlled the Basilisk (ordered it what to do). Same with Voldemort and Nagini.

In the episode in CoS when Harry was telling the snake to leave his duel opponent alone, was the snake obeying Harry's orders, or merely listening to him?

In other words, could Harry order the snakes around like Voldemort, or merely had ability to speak to them and the snake had a choice to listen or refuse?

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    I'm under the impression that there is no such thing as "control over the snakes". The Basilisk obeyed Tom because he was the heir of Salazar Slyherin I think, and Nagini was pretty much his pet anyway. Oh and it's nice to see you back on SE :P
    – Voldemort
    Dec 28, 2013 at 1:52
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    @Voldemort - seemed like Harry managed to get that snake to obey him. And thanks Dec 28, 2013 at 3:33
  • I'm not confident in this as an "answer", but it seems to me that if Harry could control or command snakes, then there would have been no need for him to have his big, epic, and dangerous fight with the basilisk at the end of CoS (though I guess he would have been competing with the Heir of Slytherin for the basilisk's attention to begin with, so even if he was capable of controlling it, Voldemort would probably have trumped him there anyway).
    – RuthP27
    Dec 30, 2013 at 14:14
  • @RuthP27 - your parenhesies at the end of the comment seem like the best explanation re: Basilisk Dec 30, 2013 at 14:46

3 Answers 3


Snakes listen to Harry, such as the instance with Justin Finch-Fletchly in CoS. If they do as he commands, that is of their own accord, not because of force.

"Listen, if I hadn't told that snake not to attack Justin..." - (Chamber of Secrets)

This quote sounds as if Harry understood the snake to be actually obeying what he told him to do.

The basilisk is different. Tom Riddle specifically mentions that it only listens to him because he is the heir of Salazar Slytherin.

  • I think Harry purely told the snake not to attack, just as I can tell someone to look both ways before crossing the street; there's just no accounting for individual action. I think the snake retains free will, but being a snake, if they view you as an established authority, may acquiesce. Apr 29, 2014 at 15:41

I think so, yes. If we revisit the scene at the duelling club, from Harry's point-of-view, the snake obeys him implicitly.

Harry wasn't sure what made him do it. He wasn't even aware of deciding to do it. All he knew was that his legs were carrying him forward as though he was on castors and that he had shouted stupidly at the snake, 'Leave him!' And miraculously - inexplicably - the snake slumped to the floor, docile as a thick black garden hose, its eyes now on Harry. Harry felt the fear drain out of him. He knew the snake wouldn't attack anyone now, though how he knew it, he couldn't have explained.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - p.145 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 11, The Duelling Club

Now you will remember as well as I, that other people, including Justin Finch-Fletchley himself, didn't see things in this way.

'All I saw,' said Ernie stubbornly, though he was trembling as he spoke, 'was you speaking Parseltongue and chasing the snake towards Justin.'

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - p.149 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 11, The Duelling Club

But I genuinely think that's born of their fear and their horror at Harry being a Parselmouth. Certainly, one moment the snake's about to strike:

Enraged, hissing furiously, it slithered straight towards Justin Finch-Fletchley and raised itself again, fangs exposed, poised to strike.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - p.145 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 11, The Duelling Club

And the next it's just lying there. Justin even has time to have a bit of a yell, instead of getting viciously bitten by a snake:

He looked up at Justin, grinning, expecting to see Justin looking relieved, or puzzled, or even grateful - but certainly not angry and scared.

'What do you think you're playing at?' he shouted, and before Harry could say anything, Justin had turned and stormed out of the Hall.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - pp.145-6 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 11, The Duelling Club

Of course, all humans, if you speak their language, can choose to do as you say, or not do as you say. Maybe the same holds for snakes. I don't think this scene proves anything conclusively, but this snake was enraged and about to strike. Maybe Harry's more imperious in Parseltongue than he comes across, but he certainly doesn't sound like he gave out a booming, commanding order. It says that, "[not] even aware of deciding to do it," he "shouted stupidly at the snake". I think the 'stupidly' here means foolishly, as in, he thought it was dumb to go yelling at a snake that's about to attack, but the point is, he doesn't seem to have had a lot of confidence in his actions, so I doubt he came across as very persuasive.

But, y'know, one incident doesn't prove a generalised ability to control snakes and I would imagine that they wouldn't all listen to him all the time. One quote that I find very suggestive, though, is from Dumbledore, talking about Nagini and Voldemort's relationship with her:

I think he is perhaps as fond of her as he can be of anything; he certainly likes to keep her close and he seems to have an unusual amount of control over her, even for a Parselmouth.'

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - p.473 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 23, Horcruxes

As for the Basilisk, I think that's a special case.

Hermione's hand was back in the air.

'Sir - what exactly do you mean by the 'horror within' the Chamber?'

'That is believed to be some sort monster, which the heir of Slytherin alone can control,' said Professor Binns in his dry, reedy voice.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - p.115 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 9, The Writing on the Wall

Now it's possible that the legend says that only the heir of Slytherin could control it because the heir of Slytherin will be a Parselmouth, but nobody else is likely to be. So it could be Parseltongue that gives the heir of Slytherin control. Indeed, the original Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them says:

[S]ince Basilisks are uncontrollable except by Parselmouths, they are as dangerous to most Dark wizards as to anybody else, and there have been no recorded sightings of Basilisks in Britain for at least four hundred years.

Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them - p.4 - Bloomsbury

This adds further weight to the idea that Parselmouths (and therefore Harry) can control snakes.

As for whether Harry Potter could have controlled Slytherin's monster, it's unclear. As others have stated, it seems like the heir of Slytherin would have a bit more authority, and trying to command or reason with the snake in the Chamber may have been pretty fruitless.

It may also be that Slytherin's monster will only answer to you if you're Slytherin's heir - irrespective of whether or not you're a Parselmouth - although clearly this would be peculiar to that Basilisk, not Basilisks generally.

Personally, I doubt Harry would have been able to call the beast off and I see no reason to be surprised that it never occurred to him to try.

As for Nagini, she is Voldemort's pet and, latterly, a Horcrux. She's a very special case indeed, and I can't see her listening to just any Parselmouth.

  • Regarding the incident at the duelling club, perhaps the snake was simply surprised to be addressed in Parseltongue and sufficiently distracted to forget its rage.
    – chirlu
    Sep 18, 2016 at 17:28

Basically, Harry has the ability to communicate with snakes. He can speak their language and understand what they say.

This doesn’t give him ‘control’ over them otherwise he could have commanded Nagini to ‘hold’ Voldemort until all the Horcruxes had been destroyed thus making his life easier (albeit making the story a little bit less exciting).

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    (1) when was the occasion that he could command Nahini to "hold" him? (2) Same problem as Basilisk - just because he can control a snake (if he can) doesn't mean Voldemort's control isn't better Jan 6, 2014 at 12:15
  • Quote: "otherwise he could have commanded Nagini to 'hold' Voldermort" - meaning it never happened, but could have if Harry had the power to control snakes . . .
    – Pat Dobson
    Jan 6, 2014 at 12:52
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    the point I was making was that there's no case in canon when Harry had a chance to command Naghini - the only time her encountered her was (1) in Bagshot's house in DH when Voldemort wasn't there and (2) when he was pretending to be dead in Hagrid's arms Jan 6, 2014 at 14:45

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