After Harry and Hermione's encounter with Nagini in Godric's Hollow, Harry says:

"She didn't want to talk in front of you, because it was Parseltongue, all Parseltongue, and I didn't realise, but of course, I could understand her."

But Hermione did hear her talk.

"Come!" called Bathilda from the next room.

Hermione jumped and clutched Harry's arm.

Did she react like that because it's not English? There's no mention of Harry being shocked - is that because he just understands it as if it were English?

Hermione also hears Harry to talk to Nagini, who understands.

Finally Harry spoke, causing Hermione to gasp and jump.

"Are you Bathilda?"

The muffled figure nodded and beckoned again.

For Nagini to understand, Harry must have spoken in Parseltongue. And again, Hermione reacted with shock.

So did Hermione react in these ways because she was hearing Parseltongue? If not, how is the snake speaking and understanding English? If so, why didn't Hermione warn Harry that he and Nagini were speaking Parseltongue?

  • I don't think Harry would have been speaking Parseltongue when he asks if she is Bathilda, because he did not yet know she was not Bathilda. Good question otherwise, though. Apr 30, 2015 at 17:48
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    @DaveJohnson Harry never knows when he's speaking Parseltongue unless another character points it out to him; he just does it automagically whenever he's talking to a snake Apr 30, 2015 at 17:51
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    @JasonBaker Yes, but he has always known he was talking to a snake. At the zoo, when Malfoy created a snake, when he's looking at the sink... He always sees that the thing he is talking to is a snake, and his words simply come out as Parseltongue. However, when talking to "Bathilda", he sees a woman, not a snake, and therefore would not be speaking Parseltongue. Apr 30, 2015 at 17:54
  • @DaveJohnson That's a fair point; I had to look it up to remind myself of how the scene played out Apr 30, 2015 at 17:55
  • @JasonBaker Your original comment was my thinking too - even if that's not right, would still like to know how the snake is understanding English.
    – James
    Apr 30, 2015 at 21:08

2 Answers 2


There are two instances prior to this in the books which points to the fact that sometimes Harry does not realize that he is speaking in Parseltongue

First time in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"

The snake jerked its head toward Uncle Vernon and Dudley, then raised its eyes to the ceiling.

It gave Harry a look that said quite plainly:

“I get that all the time.”

“I know,” Harry murmured through the glass, though he wasn’t sure the snake could hear him.

“It must be really annoying.”

The snake nodded vigorously.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Chapter 2 The Vanishing Glass

Second time in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"

“What’s bad?” said Harry, starting to feel quite angry. “What’s wrong with everyone? Listen, if I hadn’t told that snake not to attack Justin —”

“Oh, that’s what you said to it?”

“What d’you mean? You were there — you heard me —”

“I heard you speaking Parseltongue,” said Ron. “Snake language. You could have been saying anything — no wonder Justin panicked, you sounded like you were egging the snake on or something — it was creepy, you know —”

Harry gaped at him.

“I spoke a different language? But — I didn’t realize — how can I speak a language without knowing I can speak it?”

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 11 The Dueling Club

Now coming to the second question.

Finally Harry spoke, causing Hermione to gasp and jump.

“Are you Bathilda?”

I think initially Harry spoke in English. The reason for Hermione's reaction could be because of the fact that they were under the invisibility cloak and yet Bathilda was able to see them and beckoned them. And also when Harry spoke she might have been surprised.

By all the rules of normal magic, meanwhile, she ought not to be able to see Hermione and him at all. Nevertheless, Harry had the strangest feeling that she knew that they were there, and also who they were. Just as he had reached this uneasy conclusion, she raised a gloved hand and beckoned.

Hermione moved closer to him under the Cloak, her arm pressed against his.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 17 Bathilda’s Secret

It becomes clear few lines later

“Are you Bathilda?”

The muffled figure nodded and beckoned again.

Beneath the Cloak Harry and Hermione looked at each other. Harry raised his eyebrows; Hermione gave a tiny, nervous nod.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 17 Bathilda’s Secret

This implies Hermione understood Harry's question. There are two reasons why I am saying this.

Firstly Harry could speak in Parseltongue when he knew he was talking to a snake.

“Harry,” said Ron. “Say something. Something in Parseltongue.”

“But —” Harry thought hard. The only times he’d ever managed to speak Parseltongue were when he’d been faced with a real snake. He stared hard at the tiny engraving, trying to imagine it was real.

“Open up,” he said.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 16 The Chamber of Secrets

Secondly we know Voldemort speaks to Nagini in english and she understands it but cannot reply in English.

“Dinner, Nagini,” said Voldemort softly, and the great snake swayed and slithered from his shoulders onto the polished wood.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 1 The Dark Lord Ascending

Back to the question

“Come!” called Bathilda from the next room.

Hermione jumped and clutched Harry’s arm.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 17 Bathilda’s Secret

This part of the conversation would have happened in Parseltongue because Bathilda (Nagini) cannot speak English and she did not want Hermione around. And as @albusseverus potter puts it, Hermione might have heard it as "muffled mumbling of an extremely old lady". She did not realize that the language for Parseltongue because few lines later

“Who is this man?” he repeated loudly.

“Harry, what are you doing?” asked Hermione.

“This picture, Hermione, it’s the thief, the thief who stole from Gregorovitch! Please!” he said to Bathilda. ”Who is this?”

“Why did you ask us to come with you, Mrs.—Miss—Bagshot?” asked Hermione, raising her own voice. ”Was there something you wanted to tell us?”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 17 Bathilda’s Secret

Conclusion: Harry spoke in English till he was alone in the room with Bathilda (Nagini). It was the situation which made Hermione react the way she did. So in short Hermione did not realize that they were speaking in Parseltongue because Bathilda (Nagini) hardly spoke in Parseltongue when Hermione was around

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    I would actually say that most likely, Harry spoke English the entire time. When he was alone with Bathini (Nagilda?), he still did not realise that he wasn't just talking to a woman. She spoke in Parseltongue, of course, but Harry doesn't recognise that as not being English unless he knows to listen for it (cf. his first Pensieve visit to the Gaunts’ house). When he finally realised it’s Nagini, he would probably have unknowingly switched to Parseltongue, but he doesn't really stick around to chat any more after that. May 14, 2015 at 11:16
  • you are on target.
    – Vishvesh
    May 14, 2015 at 14:06

Maybe Harry wasn't speaking parsletongue to Nagini. Voldemort speaks English to her all the time. And maybe Hermione heard Nagini speak, but thought it was just the muffled mumbling of an extremely old lady. I can only answer this in maybe's, since there is no canon answer to this.

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