If the Sorting Hat sent you to Slytherin in first year, no doubt you'll be charmed by these two fabulously scaly serpents, who seem almost to wriggle right off the pages of Ulisse Aldrovandi's 1640 volume on snakes and dragons. Fear not if you're not a fan of Slytherin's mascot: the common Aesculepian snake (left) and the black Aesculepian snake (right) aren't venomous. Aldrovandi reopens the debate about snake generation in this book, puzzling over the suggestion that snakes come from the eggs of a rooster. Is there a Parselmouth in the house? We'll just have to ask.
All hail the king of the snakes! Basilisks—from the Greek basiliskos, for "little king," are depicted in many early modern natural histories and were said to be the kings of the serpents (Dark Arts students will recognize them for their diadem-shaped crests). J.K. Rowling preserves many details of the accounts from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century sources about this terrifying snake, including his birth from a chicken's egg hatched under a toad, and a gaze that could kill. Susceptible to wizard control by some Parselmouths, only Tom Riddle proved snake-charmer enough to ever challenge one.
The classical tradition that attested to the realness of mermaids continued well into the seventeenth century, with sources like Ulisse Aldrovandi's Monstrorum historia documenting sightings of the creatures. Pliny also reported documentary evidence of Sirens, the beguiling mermaids who lured sailors with song to their deaths along the Nile (note the couple is called the Monstra Niliaca Parei). J.K. Rowling's colony of mer-people at the Black Lake use their voices to deliver a vital clue during the TriWizard Tournament.
Italian naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) kept an impressive cabinet of curiosities that purportedly included a dragon specimen. When he died, he left his collection to the city of Bologna. The collection was later maintained by Bartolomeo Ambrosini, who published the naturalist's volume on serpents and dragons after Aldrovandi's death. Aldrovandi deliberately produced large-format books with spacious woodcuts, allowing him to render his subjects in the appropriate size according to their appearances in real life or in this case, stature. On the top is one of Aldrovandi's Ethiopian dragons, and below, a dragon modeled after Ambroise Paré's dragon, expanded for effect. We're sure Charlie Weasley would love to meet these fire-breathing fellows.