Frank was a gardener for the paternal grandparents of Tom Riddle, aka Voldemort. He lived alone in a cottage on the Riddle House grounds, which stood on top of a hill overlooking the village of Little Hangleton. A Muggle who’d returned from fighting in the war ‘with a very stiff leg and a great dislike of crowds and loud noises,’ Frank had been tending to the Riddle House gardens ever since, apart from a brief moment of time when he’d been arrested for suspected involvement in the mysterious deaths of the Riddles – Voldemort’s Muggle father, also called Tom, and his rich, snobbish parents.
We know, of course, that all three Riddles were actually killed by Voldemort via means of the Killing Curse. He’d sought them out after a visit to his mother’s nearby home revealed the truth about his parentage. After Stupefying his Gaunt uncle, Voldemort had made his way to the Riddle house, killing the Muggle man who abandoned his witch mother, and, for good measure, the grandparents who tied him to that unworthy Muggle lineage.
For those investigating the Riddle’s deaths, however, the fact that they died without a mark on them was perplexing, to say the least. But it did mean they were forced to let Frank go. To the Little Hangleton villagers’ surprise, he returned to live on the Riddle House grounds, and so, unfortunately for Frank, that was where he was when another strange visit occurred.
Right at the beginning of Goblet of Fire, when a weakened Voldemort was taking refuge in the Riddle House under the ‘clumsy care’ of Wormtail (aka Peter Pettigrew).
Having been woken in the middle of the night by his bad leg, Frank noticed lights on in the Riddle House. Suspecting some local children had broken in and started a fire, he went up to investigate. Having no phone and a deep distrust of the police, he did so without anyone else knowing, which would prove to be a mistake – not that Frank could possibly have predicted what he would find in the Riddle House: a rat-like wizard and the barely human man he served, who could talk to snakes and kill with a single flash of green light.
When we met him, Frank was nearing his seventy-seventh birthday and was very deaf. His bad leg was stiffer than ever, and he used a walking stick to get around. When he later appeared to Harry as a result of Priori Incantatem (or, ‘the reverse spell effect’), in the graveyard after the final Triwizard Tournament task, Frank wore a look of mild surprise, as he leaned on his walking stick and told Harry:
‘Killed me, that one did … you fight him, boy ...’
He might have appeared in only a handful of scenes and his death might not have been considered important by the Ministry of Magic, but Frank’s tenacity and courage shone forth in every one of those scenes. Stubborn and persistent, Frank returned to the Riddle House once after the war, and again after his wrongful arrest, and just quietly got on with things, even as the villagers gossiped about him and the young ones threw stones and ruined his lawns. Frank had a bad war, someone at The Hanged Man pub said, so he’d presumably endured a lot worse than rumour and speculation.
But while his post-war years might have been solitary, he was just as brave as an older man. The fact that he went to check on the Riddle House when he thought it was on fire is one thing. But the fact that he stood his ground in front of actual Voldemort, speaking with defiance and having the presence of mind to invent a wife who’d be worrying about him, proved that beyond any doubt.
‘Is that right?’ said Frank roughly. ‘Lord, is it? Well, I don’t think much of your manners, my Lord. Turn round and face me like a man, why don’t you?’
Months before he appeared to Harry as a result of Priori Incantatem, Harry had seen Frank in a dream. To be more precise, Harry had experienced Frank being murdered by Voldemort through a vision. It was an early example of the connection that later allowed Harry to look into Voldemort’s mind, but at the time of the dream Harry knew little about all that. He simply woke as if from a nightmare, his scar throbbing and his mind full of concern about the old man he’d witnessed Voldemort murder.
But if Frank had not appeared in Harry’s dream, there wouldn’t have been knowledge of his murder at all. As Dumbledore later said, the Ministry of Magic did not seem to register Frank’s disappearance, and they certainly didn’t investigate his connections to the Riddles. As a solitary man living alone, Frank’s death might have been ignored, were it not for Harry’s dream and the attention Dumbledore paid to Muggle newspapers. His death served as a reminder for just how capable (and comfortable) Voldemort was with killing – something Harry would witness again months later. Finally, without the death of Frank, Dumbledore may not have had cause to suspect Voldemort had briefly returned to the Riddle House.
So Frank was important because he reinforced just how deplorable Voldemort was, and because his experiences provided valuable insight into the Riddles – insight Dumbledore was later able to expand on. But he was also important in his own right. His steadfast acceptance of the situations he found himself in was accompanied by a quiet bravery. His words to Harry during Priori Incantatem might have been brief, but they were to-the-point. Along with Cedric, Bertha Jorkins and his parents, Frank provided additional support at a time Harry needed it most.
Frank was a Muggle in a world full of magical characters; plus, he appeared in only two chapters of one book in the entire Harry Potter series. So we’d forgive you if you don’t remember much about him – even Harry only ever knew him as ‘the old man.’
But we can’t help but admire Frank’s spirit, and we hope that by reminding you about him here, we’ve done the old man some justice.