Who are the Sacred Twenty-Eight, and what’s so special about being pure-blooded? We take a deep dive into the mania that swept U.K. wizard society.
Being a pure-blooded wizard or witch doesn’t actually confer any special powers, or bestow a family with some dignitary award, but don’t tell that to certain wizard families. During the mid-to-late 20th century, a fever known as “pure-blood mania” swept across a segment of wizarding society. It was driven partly by the publication of a simple treatsie known as The Pure-Blood Directory.
Though the tract was anonymously published, many believe that it was penned by that cantankerous nut, Cantankerus Nott. Published around 1932 or 1933, it claimed to list out the twenty-eight wizarding families that were at that time still “pure,” or not tainted with Muggle blood by intermarriage.
This was not strictly correct. Some of the families listed had half-bloods in their family trees at the time of publication. Other families that had not married outside the wizarding world but were known to espouse pro-Muggle views, like the Potters, were ostentatiously not included. Several families who were left off struggled to stick to wizard-only marriages, hoping to attain entry in the directory (the Crabbes and the Goyles both did this). Meanwhile, many of the families who made the list took pride in it, and did everything they could to make sure they continued with the pure-blood marriage tradition.
Those named in The Pure-Blooded Directory can be broken up into three categories: the eight minor families, the ten middling families and the ten major families.
The Eight Minor Families
These eight families are “minor” in the sense that not much is known about them. Other than a child sorted into Slytherin here, or a Death Eater family member there, they are currently also-rans in the Potterverse.
Avery: The only members of this family mentioned are the father, who was part of Voldemort’s gang of thugs at Hogwarts in the mid-40s, and his son, who was friends with Snape in the 70s. No third generation is currently known.
Nott: The only known member of this family, other than the author of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, is his Slytherin grandson, Theodore, who is in the same year as Harry at Hogwarts.
Parkinson: The family of Malfoy’s girlfriend, Pansy. Pottermore mentions that their historical line includes Perseus Parkinson, who was Minster of Magic (1726-1731.) He attempted and failed to make marrying a Muggle illegal.
Rosier: Mentioned on Pottermore as one of the earliest Death Eater families, Druella married into the Black family, and was mother to Bellatrix, Narcissa and Andromeda. Her brother Evan was killed by Mad-Eye Moody.
Rowle: Current generation member Thorfinn might be remembered for attacking Harry, Ron and Hermione in a Muggle Diner in Deathly Hallows. The only other known member is Damocles, who was Minister of Magic (1718-1726), and famous for creating the prison known as Azkaban.
Selwyn: The only thing we know about this family is that Dolores Umbridge dubiously claims to be related to them.
Shafiq: Nothing is known about this family. No one with this surname is mentioned in the books.
Travers: Other than their being a Death Eater surnamed Travers in the Potter novels, little is known about this family either.
1. Abbott and Macmillan
Though our minor list above seems like a litany of Death Eater parents and Slytherin children, not every family on Nott’s list is so easily written off as “bad guys.” In fact, some of the “Sacred Twenty-Eight” are kind and gentle people, who would never in a million years consider joining up with Voldemort, or be automatically sorted into Slytherin.
Take Hannah Abbott and Ernie Macmillan, for instance. The Abbotts and the Macmillans were both listed as pure-bloods in the directory. But their children were both sorted into Hufflepuff. Ernie is definitely a pure-blood, but he never seems to treat it like it makes him superior. At one point he (and Hannah) thought Harry was the Heir of Slytherin, and therefore evil, which is not at all what a Death Eater in training would think. They realize their error when Hermione is petrified, and make a point of seeking Harry out to apologize.
Meanwhile, Hannah, though originally meant to be a pure-blood by Rowling, is actually a half-blood. Her mother was murdered by Voldemort and his followers—whether this was due to having married a Muggle or not is unknown. Either way, she certainly isn’t the type to follow Voldemort.
2. Bulstrode and Carrow
Sadly, Hannah and Ernie’s families are the minority exceptions on this list. Far more of those we see are like Millicent Bulstrode and the twins Flora and Hestria Carrow. All three were sorted into Slytherin and come from Death Eater families. The Bulstrodes married into the Black family, though it should be noted that Millicent, like Hannah, is a half-blood, since the family has more recently mixed with Muggles.
The Carrows, on the other hand, are still big into the pure-blood scene. Amycus Carrow and his sister Alecto, both of whom attended Hogwarts a generation before Flora and Hestia, are active Death Eaters during the Second Wizarding War, going so far as to take positions as Professors at Hogwarts during the 1997-1998 school year. It is never confirmed in the books or Pottermore which of them are the parent of Flora and Hestia, though some assume that Alecto is their mother.
3. Flint and Greengrass
The Flint and Greengrass families might have, in another version of this list, landed in the minor families section, due to the fact that Rowling doesn’t give all that much attention to either of them in the books. But the movies elevated their most current generation into the viewing consciousness.
The Flint family has a rich history. Josephina Flint was Minster of Magic from 1819-1827, and was very anti-Muggle. She also complained about the new industrial technologies interfering with magic. There’s also Ursula Flint, who was married to Phineas Nigellus Black, also known as the least popular Hogwarts headmaster ever.
Marcus Flint is already a student at Hogwarts when Harry arrives—his buck-toothed evil smile is featured prominently in the first Quidditch game between Gryffindor and Slytherin that Harry plays in, and was something of a symbol of how terrible Slytherin students were in the Columbus films.
The Greengrasses, on the other hand, have zero historical family members. Daphne is a minor member of Pansy’s gang in the books. But the movies elevate her sister Astoria in one of the most memorable scenes in the series: the Deathly Hallows epilogue, 19 years later—she’s Draco’s wife, seen talking to little Scorpius.
4. Prewett and Shacklebolt
In a fairer universe, one where James and Lily Potter lived, Remus got to be Ole Uncle Mooney, and Sirius Black was a doting godfather who gave little Harry doggyback rides, the Prewetts would be a major pure-blood family.
But Harry does not live in that universe, and Prewetts suffered unspeakable losses during the First Wizarding War. Most of us think that Molly Weasley is fighting with the Order of the Phoenix because the Weasleys are on the side of just and right. But she’s actually carrying on the work of her dead brothers, Fabian and Gideon Prewett. Molly is the last living member of this once proud and good hearted pure-blood family.
Molly isn’t the only single surviving family member of a once proud line. The Shacklebolts were also once a high-ranking and proud pure-blood family, but they were cut down by Death Eaters because they didn’t think being pure-blood meant they should kill Muggles. Now all that’s left is Kingsley Shacklebolt, one of the best Aurors of his generation. After becoming Minister of Magic after the Second Wizarding War, he made it his business to stamp out laws that gave pure-bloods special treatment.
5. Slughorn and Yaxley
We all know Professor Horace Slughorn, Potions Professor during Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts. He is exactly the type of pure-blooded wizard who sits uncomfortably between the Macmillan types and the Death Eater types. Slughorn was big on excluding those who are not pure-blooded, although he made exceptions for students like Hermione Granger and Lilly Potter, who were twice as good as everyone else in the room. Slughorn also puts a lot of emphasis on who you know, always working to forge connections between important students.
Slughorn’s predilection with his favorites is more banally snobbish than it is truly evil, but it’s the sort of thing that is weak in the face of real evil, and allows it to thrive.
Horace is the only member of the Slughorn family that we know at this time, but he’s prominent enough in The Half-Blood Prince to raise his family’s profile to Middling. The Yaxleys are also prominent enough to reach the Middling level, especially in the movies. Though we never learn Yaxley’s first name, he is consistently by Voldemort’s side. Once he is raised to the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, his is one of the Death Eater faces we see over and over again.
A few Yaxleys also show up on the Black Family tapestry, meaning they’ve been inter-marrying with other pure-blood families for a long time.
The family known as “The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black” holds that title for a reason. No one was ever going to make a list of pure-blooded families and not have this clan, which is one of the oldest and richest wizarding families in the UK, listed prominently among them. This is a family whose motto is “Toujours pur.” (Always Pure.) This is a family that takes the concept of pure-blood mania to the extreme, and would willingly accept incest rather than let a family member marry a Muggle.
The Black family is also one with a record going back many generations—obsessed with proving their lineage, family members kept detailed records that show ancestors in the middle ages and the first century of the common era. But as Sirius notes, that first century was one where wizards lived openly among Muggles and freely intermarried. To pretend that one’s line is pure-blooded coming out of the middle ages is to ignore history. The Black family certainly did, wiping out all Muggles and Squibs who might have been part of the line.
Today, the Black family name is dead, as the last two male members—Sirius and Regulus—died without issue. The irony is that the bloodline lives on through Teddy Lupin, the son of half-blood Tonks and werewolf Remus. Tonks’ mother, Andromeda Black, raised Teddy along with Harry after the Second Wizarding War.
The Burke family is another major force in pure-blood history, with a line going back generations. Though their role in the movies was cut down significantly (to a single stop over in Borgins and Burkes at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), in the books, the Burke family pops up in odd places everywhere you turn, usually intertwined with the Black family.
Borgins and Burkes, of course, is the “dark arts artifacts” store that Harry accidentally wanders into after discovering Knockturn Alley, and where he overhears Borgin express interest in some dark objects owned by Lucius Malfoy. It’s also the “other end” of the Vanishing Cabinets that Draco uses to breash Hogwart’s security spells to take out Dumbledore.
But the Burkes, though they don’t have any students who are in Harry’s year as part of the family, are a constant presence at Hogwarts. Belvina Burke is the daughter of Phineas Nigellus Black, the most hated Headmaster who ever ran Hogwarts. Elizabeth Burke’s portrait hangs near the entrance to the Slytherin common room, and constantly reminds Slytherin students to be “mean to Mudbloods.” And of course, Caratacus Burke, who founded Borgin and Burkes, gave Tom Riddle his first job, which was paramount in the Dark Lord’s quest to find the Hogwarts artifacts that he later used to turn into Horcruxes.
The Crouch family, as we know, undergoes a great tragedy. Drawing from both the books and the movies, we know three generations of this family, stretching back across the 20th century. Caspar Crouch married Charis Black and their son Bartemius rose fast through the ranks of the ministry. At one point, he was even close to being tapped as the next Minister of Magic after Millicent Bagnold, who ran the Ministry during the First Wizarding War, retired. This is despite the fact that many wanted Albus Dumbledore to take the position—this was not the first time that suggestion was made, and as before, it failed. Crouch’s ascendancy would have been in like with many other pure-blood families who had run the ministry, like Parkinson and Rowle.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. Though Barty Sr. has proved immune to the pure-blood mania that gripped his maternal line, his son, Barty Jr, was not so lucky. Most believe the junior Crouch was not right in the head anyway, but his loyalty to Voldemort was striking. Barty Sr’s choice to banish his son to Azkaban may have undermined and ultimately derailed a once promising career. But it was his next choice, to smuggle his son out of prison and try and keep him hidden away, that ultimately did in both him and the family line, which is now extinct.
I know, everyone just looked at me and said, “Who?”
A few years ago, the Fawley family was just another name on a list that Rowling dropped as part of her Pottermore writings, one of the twenty-eight pure-blooded wizarding families named in The Pure-Blood Director, half of which we’d either never heard of or were made up of minor characters. So why is the Fawley family suddenly sitting here among the families of the major forces in the books, like Black and Crouch and Malfoy? What changed?
Well, you may have heard of a little movie called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Set in 1926, this trilogy begins in America, and will follow the story of Newt Scamander, who wrote the textbook of the same name. Now, although the movie begins in America, Scamander is from the UK, and on a mission from the Ministry which was, during that period, being run by one Hector Fawley. Though Newt will be dealing directly with the MACUSA when we meet him in New York City, the fact is that his antics will most likely inspire the UK Ministry of Magic to get involved in this international incident, which makes Hector Fawley a major character. That’s especially important if you know that Hector Fawley is also the Minsiter of Magic whose anti-Muggle sentiments lead him to privately sympathize with Gellert Grindelwald’s “For the Greater Good” campaign and his appeasement with the Wizarding World’s version of Adolf Hitler.
For the record, his grandson, Sullivan Fawley, attended Hogwarts at the same time Harry did, but was sorted into Hufflepuff, not Slytherin. This suggests that the Fawley’s fall from wizarding society post-1940 lead the family away from becoming Death Eaters.
Like the Black Family, the House of Gaunt is another one whose pure-blood mania predated the publication of Nott’s directory. But unlike the Black family, who merely suggested they would prefer incest to inter-marriage with Muggles, the Gaunt family actually did it.
The Gaunts, for the record, are not just pure-blood wizards who can trace their lineage back to the first century of the common era. Their single-minded devotion to keeping the family line pure also makes them direct descendants of not only Salazar Slytherin, but back even further to the Peverell family, a wizarding family from before the common era, who existed so long before written history that most people believe their story, which involves the Deathly Hallows, to be a myth. They are also, famously, Parseltongues.
For many generations, the Gaunts knew they were both heirs to Slytherin as well as to the Peverells, and family members who attended Hogwarts made sure that the Chamber of Secrets would always be accessible. But their tendency toward inbreeding led to mental instability. Over the course of the last couple of centuries, that madness caused them to squander their fortune, and by the time Merope bewitched a Muggle named Tom Riddle (the first recorded inbreeding with Muggles that had occurred in the Gaunt line in perhaps two millennia), their family was destitute as well as insane.
With the death of Voldemort in 1998, the Gaunt line, as well as the Slytherin line, is now well and truly extinct.
Like the Black and Gaunt families, the Lestrange line is an ancient one that can trace it’s lineage back through many generations. Like the Gaunts, the Lestranges are so wedded to the concept of keeping their line pure that they were willing to tolerate incest—or at least very close intermarriage—in order to maintain their status. (Marrying even a once removed half-blood wizard was utterly unacceptable.) This led to the same sort of mental instability found in the Gaunt line. Luckily for them, their wealth was so vast, and enough Lestranges kept their wits about them, that the family has not gone bankrupt.
The Lestranges were some of the first Death Eaters. It is rumored that the father of Rodolphus was one of Tom Riddle’s closest friends in Hogwarts, and one of the first to join his gang. Both Rodolphus, his wife Bellatrix (of the Black family), and his brother Rabastan were some of Voldemort’s most ardent followers during the First and Second Wizarding War. The three of them were the only ones to search for Voldemort after he fell the first time, all three went to Azkaban for him, and all three immediately rejoined his movement when they were freed. Bellatrix Lestrange is the most famous of Voldemort’s followers. Her marriage to Rodolphus was not a love match, and she was unhealthily sexually obsessed with the Dark Lord, leading her to outdo most Death Eaters when it came to acts of violence against those who opposed them.
With Bellatrix dead with no issue, and the fate of her husband and brother a mystery, it is unknown at this time if the Lestrange family line is extinct or not.
Much like the Middling and Minor Families, the Major pure-blooded lines can sometimes feel like a who’s who of Voldemort’s followers. So it’s with some relief that we finally reach the Longbottoms. Though the Longbottoms are a respected pure-blood family, they are not inclined towards the pure-blood mania that grips some wizarding families who can trace their lineage far back in time. In fact, it’s not clear that they were very interested in being singled out on this list at all.
Part of the reason for that lack of clarity is due to Frank and Alice Longbottom no longer being of sound mind to ask. The two of them were tortured into insanity by Death Eaters and left to a fate that some might consider worse than death. Their son Neville does not speak very much about them, or about the fact that his family is pure-blooded, since the subject is a painful one. One might assume that his grandmother, Augusta, who was always hectoring him about family honor, might have been more interested in keeping the family line pure than her son and daughter-in-law might have been. But that would underestimate Augusta, who might believe in respectability, but did not believe in inequality. To this day, Neville is a testament to her and their family name.
Neville Longbottom started out timid and grew into a man who embodied the honor of his family. Draco Malfoy is his polar opposite. He started out a proud and egotistical believer in his family’s history of pure-blood mania, only to realize as he grew up what a terrible choice his family had made.
The Malfoys, in comparison to some of this list, are almost open-minded, which says a lot about some of these families, considering that when Harry meets them, he thinks they are the most evil family he’s ever seen. But though the Malfoys are disdainful of Muggle intermarriage, they are not opposed to marrying half-bloods, nor did they ever resort to inbreeding. Like the Blacks, Gaunts, and Lestranges, they too trace their lineage back to the first century of the common era, and their land holdings to a present from William I. But unlike their counterparts, they actively mixed with Muggle high society throughout the Renaissance, dabbling in Muggle investments, and amassing a huge amount of wealth both in Muggle and wizarding money, until the 1692 International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy was passed. (The Malfoys were, as you can image, one of the last hold-outs against the passage of the statute, though they would never admit it now.)
Draco was not the only one who realized the terrible choice his family had made in siding with the Death Eaters, though one can certainly understand why the family initially thought it the right thing to do, with so many pure-bloods siding with him, and Narcissa Black’s family, especially her sister Bellatrix, being such loyal servants to the Dark Lord. But by the end of the Second Wizarding War, the family defected, keeping themselves out of Azkaban. Draco’s son Scorpius now attends Hogwarts.
The most curious entry on this list goes to the Ollivander family. As I said in my introduction, Nott’s directory was not just a list of those who are pure-blooded. It was also a document that sought to curry favor with powerful pure-blood families of the time, like the Blacks and the Fawleys. It deliberately left off some pure-blooded families due to their political stances and their disfavor with some of the other members on the list. The most notable of these, of course, is that of the Potters, who not only were pure-bloods of great renown, but, like the Gaunts, direct descendants of the Peverell family. The Potters were outspokenly pro-Muggle, and by the 1930s were actively working to raise awareness of Grindelwald, who, as you can imagine, was a man whose cause found sympathy with many of those we’ve spoken of above.
Meanwhile, in place of families that should have been on the list, Nott put the Ollivanders. Now, the Ollivanders are not just an old wizarding family. They are straight ancient. The original Ollivander founded the family wand-making business in 382 BCE, first in Rome and then in the territories of Gaul and Britannia, as they were conquered by Julius Caesar in the final years before the common era. Having this family listed as a pure-blooded one was an attempt to show that those wizarding families who could trace their heritage back so far must be part of the movement to keep their family lines pure. But as most noted at the time, it was also utter nonsense. Garrick Ollivander, who inherited the family business prior to 1930, and who had been selling wands for nearly a century before Harry ever set foot in his shop, was known by all to be half-Muggle, and the family for intermarrying freely for generations.
Our final entry is a wizarding family who would, if asked, like to be kept off this list, thank you very much. The pure-blooded family who were most outspoken against this directory when it was released in the 1930s, the Weasleys have the ability and privilege to do such a thing. For unlike every other family on this list, they were not interested in worrying about their respectability. They didn’t need to. They didn’t have any to worry about.
That is a little mean, but the lack of “respectability” is part of what makes the Weasleys the lovable clan that they are. They have no pretensions and they don’t worry about what other people think. This lax attitude towards putting on a public face, along with a strong streak of pro-Muggle sentiment (Arthur Weasley was well nigh obsessed with Muggles) makes them a very odd outlier on this list. One might think the reason they were included was to soothe the Black family, who had just had a daughter run away with Septimus Wealsey around the time of publication. Though the Weasleys were pure-bloods, the Black family disowned her anyway. Perhaps they just didn’t want to have to add that many children to the Black family tapestry, since the Weasleys are known for their large broods.
That completes our list of the “pure-blooded” wizard families who were singled out as such during Newt Scamander’s era. I really look forward to our first dive into this time period with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Thought the first movie will be set in America, I am looking forward to the next installments and seeing what the pro and anti-Muggle sentiment was like in the UK during this era, since it was when this document was published.