Chapter 13 – The Secret Riddle
This chapter opens right after the Katie-Bell-Got-A-Cursed-Necklace fiasco. She has been taken to St. Mungo’s for treatment and the rumors about what happened are spreading all over school, because of course they are. Harry has other things to think about though – his next lesson with Dumbledore. He knows that Dumbledore has been away for a while, so he’s almost surprised when Dumbledore is actually there for once. Dumbledore also gives us a bit more information about Katie’s situation – she was actually incredibly lucky. Like, super incredibly lucky.
“She appears to have brushed the necklace with the smallest possible amount of skin: There was a tiny hole in her glove. Had she put it on, had she even held it in her ungloved hand, she would have died, perhaps instantly. Luckily Professor Snape was able to do enough to prevent a rapid spread of the curse –“
Harry has a valid question here: why did they go to Snape instead of Madam Pomfrey? Dumbledore simply tells him that Snape knows much more about the Dark Arts than Pomfrey does, which I’m sure is true. I can’t imagine sweet Madam Pomfrey dabbling in any sort of Dark magic. Harry also mentions the issue with Mundungus Fletcher stealing items from Grimmauld Place, and Dumbledore assures him that this has been taken care of. Mundungus is a bit scared of Dumbledore, as he’s scared of just about anyone. The portrait of Phineas Nigellus is particularly incensed that someone like Mundungus would dare to steal from his family’s ancestral home.
Harry also makes sure that Dumbledore knows his suspicions of Draco Malfoy. He’s not about to let that go.
Enough of that, though. It’s time for the lesson and to learn more about Voldemort’s past. To recap where we left off, Merope Gaunt had bewitched Tom Riddle into falling in love with her and was immediately abandoned with her child once the enchantment wore off. She ended up in London where she sold the locket she had been wearing, which had belonged to Salazar Slytherin himself, to Borgin & Burke’s. Caractacus Burke, taking advantage of Merope’s desperate situation, only gave her ten Galleons for this priceless artifact. He’s a real peach, isn’t he.
We already know that Voldemort grew up in an orphanage, so something happened to Merope. Harry doesn’t understand why she seemed to just give up, since she could obviously do magic. Dumbledore has an explanation.
“Ah,” said Dumbledore, “perhaps she could. But it is my belief — I am guessing again, but I am sure I am right — that when her husband abandoned her, Merope stopped using magic. I do not think that she wanted to be a witch any longer. Of course, it is also possible that her unrequited love and the attendant despair sapped her of her powers; that can happen. In any case, as you are about to see, Merope refused to raise her wand even to save her own life.”
“She wouldn’t even stay alive for her son?”
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. “Could you possibly be feeling sorry for Lord Voldemort?”
“No,” said Harry quickly, “but she had a choice, didn’t she, not like my mother –“
A few things here. I think it is not a good comparison to compare Lily Potter to Merope Gaunt. Merope suffered years and years of abuse by her father and her brother (we never find out what happened to her mother, but clearly she wasn’t in the picture). She found brief happiness with Riddle Sr., which was soon quashed once he abandoned her. Merope is suffering from all kinds of trauma, from PTSD to other mental and probably physical health issues. Things that Lily Evans Potter never had to face. It’s incredibly unfair to Merope to use Lily as an example.
Also, we find out later that Lily in fact did have a choice and chose to die anyway instead of being spared in an effort to protect her son and defeat Voldemort. But Harry doesn’t know that yet.
They are entering another memory, this time one of Dumbledore’s own. Let’s take a second to admire the fact that in the memory, he is wearing a plum velvet suit that is “flamboyantly cut.” Tell me again why people were surprised when J.K. said he was gay? He arrives at a building, which turns out to be the orphanage where Tom Riddle Jr., aka Voldy, lives. He meets with the matron, Mrs. Cole, and inquires after young Tom, telling her that Tom has a place at his school. She’s pretty sharp, so he has to use some very subtle magic to convince her everything is in order, but this is Dumbledore we’re talking about, so he manages everything just fine.
He starts out by asking about Tom’s history. Turns out that Merope came to this place while she was in labor. They took her in, helped her give birth, and then she died. Before she died, she mentioned that she hoped that the baby took after his father and then told them he was to be named after his father and grandfather – Tom Marvolo Riddle. Since no one else ever came after the baby, he stayed at the orphanage and had been there ever since. Mrs. Cole also mentioned that Tom is a very odd child.
“Odd in what way?” asked Dumbledore gently.
“Well, he –“
But Mrs. Cole pulled up short, and there was nothing blurry or vague about the inquisitorial glance she shot Dumbledore over her gin glass.
“He’s definitely got a place at your school, you say?”
“Definitely,” said Dumbledore.
“And nothing I say can change that?”
“Nothing,” said Dumbledore.
“You’ll be taking him away, whatever?”
“Whatever,” repeated Dumbledore gravely.
Mrs. Cole isn’t stupid. While Dumbledore isn’t surprised that a magical child stuck in a Muggle orphanage would be seen as strange, Mrs. Cole has first hand experience with Tom. She says that he scares the other children, that strange things always seem to happen around him, but no one can catch him doing anything. Things like someone’s pet rabbit hanging itself from the rafters. Two children who were “never quite right” after exploring a cave with Tom. Mrs. Cole says that most of the people there will be glad that Tom is leaving.
Dumbledore makes sure that she understands that Tom will have to come back to the orphanage every summer and then asks to see him. This kid is just disturbing on many, many levels, but there is one good thing about him – his mother got her wish. He looks just like handsome Tom Riddle Sr. Dumbledore introduces himself as a professor, but Tom jumps to the conclusion that this means he’s a doctor of some sort there to try and diagnose Tom because of his oddity. Dumbledore denies this, but Tom isn’t having it.
“I don’t believe you,” said Riddle. “She wants me looked at, doesn’t she? Tell the truth!”
He spoke the last three words with a ringing force that was almost shocking. It was a command, and it sounded as though he had given it many times before. His eyes had widened and he was glaring at Dumbledore, who made no response except to continue smiling pleasantly. After a few seconds Riddle stopped glaring, though he looked, if anything, warier still.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for the kid. He’s had no one in his life and has had to deal with having this strange powers that he doesn’t understand. There is so much bitterness and resentment built up in this little boy, it really isn’t any wonder that he went down some dark paths.
Dumbledore tries to continue the conversation, but it doesn’t go well at first. Tom thinks that Hogwarts is some sort of asylum where he will be locked away. Dumbledore tells him no, and if he doesn’t want to go, he will not be forced to. That makes me wonder – what happens to Muggleborn witches or wizards who, for whatever reason, decide to not go to Hogwarts? Maybe their parents won’t let them because they don’t understand, or the kid themselves doesn’t want to leave their entire life behind. They would never get a wand, but would they still have magic? What would happen to it if they don’t really use it? Does it go away?
Anyway, back to the story. Dumbledore explains that Hogwarts is a school for magic, and this brings Tom up short. I can only guess that this is the answer that he has been looking for most of his life. He has always felt different, always felt special, but never understood why.
“It’s . . . it’s magic, what I can do?”
“What is it that you can do?”
“All sorts,” breathed Riddle. A flush of excitement was rising up his neck into his hollow cheeks; he looked fevered. “I can make things move without touching them. I can make animals do what I want them to do, without training them. I can make bad things happen to people who annoy me. I can make them hurt if I want to.”
Starts off pretty simple and innocent – make things move, talk to animals – and then takes a sharp turn into creepy town. I will never forget the line “I can make them hurt if I want to.” That is a person who should never learn Dark magic, or any magic really. Tom wants Dumbledore to prove that he is also a wizard, yelling at him to “Tell the truth!” like he did before. Now that Tom is accepting his place at Hogwarts, Dumbledore instructs him to address him with the proper respect. It takes a second, but Tom relents and very politely asks again. Dumbledore pulls out his wand from his jacket pocket and sets fire to Tom’s wardrobe. Tom freaks out, understandably since everything he owns is inside this thing, but Dumbledore immediately puts the fire out, showing no damage to the wardrobe at all.
Tom is impressed and wants a wand, like right now. But there’s something else, a weird sound coming out of the wardrobe. Tom opens it and sees a box up on the shelf shaking and rattling like crazy. Dumbledore instructs him to take the box out, which Tom does, and then tells him to open it, which Tom also does. Inside are several small objects that Tom has stolen from other children at the orphanage. Dumbledore instructs him to return the objects immediately and warns him that stealing will not be tolerated at Hogwarts. Tom doesn’t look the least bit cowed by any of this, which to me is another warning sign that something is decidedly wrong with this kid. Dumbledore continues to tell him that Hogwarts is for teaching magic use and how to control it, which is very important, as there is a whole wizarding government that will come down hard on him if he can’t use his magic responsibly.
Tom seems to understand this, but then tells Dumbledore that he doesn’t have any money. Dumbledore gives him some. Apparently there is a fund at Hogwarts for students who can’t afford the required items, kind of like student grants here in the States. Tom asks where to get his books and things, but when Dumbledore offers to take him to Diagon Alley in London, Tom refuses his help and only asks how to get there. He also doesn’t seem to like his name all that much. When Dumbledore gives him instructions on how to get to the Leaky Cauldron and to ask for Tom the barman, who obviously share’s Tom Riddle’s name, Tom gets irritated.
“There are a lot of Toms,” muttered Riddle. Then, as though he could not suppress the question, as though it burst from him in spite of himself, he asked, “Was my father a wizard? He was called Tom Riddle too, they’ve told me.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know,” said Dumbledore, his voice gentle.
“My mother can’t have been magic, or she wouldn’t have died,” said Riddle, more to himself than Dumbledore. “It must have been him.”
So many things wrong with this kid. You can see the Voldemort building blocks just stacking up here. He doesn’t like that he has an ordinary name, since he feels so extraordinary. He believes that magic should prevent someone from ever dying like his mother did. He was abandoned by his Muggle father, which he doesn’t know yet, but will lead to an undying hatred of Muggles in general. The very last thing Tom tells Dumbledore before he leaves is that Tom can talk to snakes. He wants to know if that is normal for a wizard. Dumbledore only says that it’s “unusual, but not unheard of.” After that, Dumbledore leaves the orphanage, and present-day Dumbledore and Harry exit the memory.
Harry muses that Tom believed everything right away, which Harry didn’t, not at first. Dumbledore admits that Tom seemed to jump at the chance to prove that he was “special.”
“Did you know — then?” asked Harry.
“Did I know that I had just met the most dangerous Dark wizard of all time?” said Dumbledore. “No, I had no idea that he was to grow up to be what he is . . .”
Eh, I may not have suspected that he would be “the most dangerous Dark wizard of all time,” but clearly this kid had a darkness in him that should never have been ignored. Dumbledore had intended to keep an eye on him once he came to Hogwarts, but more because the kid had no one else than because Dumbledore saw him as a threat. Which is odd, because Dumbledore also mentions that Tom came to Hogwarts already in control over some of his powers, which most first year students don’t have yet. He had already been using magic for specific purposes, mostly to torment and torture his fellow inmates at the orphanage.
Dumbledore brings up other traits: Tom’s hatred of his name and of ever being considered ordinary. The fact that he didn’t seek out companionship or help, determined to be self-sufficient. This is significant, according to Dumbledore, because many Death Eaters claim to be Voldemort’s confidant, but they are wildly misguided. Voldemort doesn’t have confidants. He doesn’t have friends. He doesn’t want them. Another trait of Tom’s: stealing trophies from his victims. This will be significant later on as well.
As Harry leaves and the chapter closes, I feel like this is probably one of the strongest chapters in the whole series. The way we are building up to how Voldemort became Voldemort, after knowing practically nothing of his history for five books, is really interesting and impressive. And man, that kid is just so creepy! I feel bad for him – he’s had a rough lot in life – but I also wouldn’t want that kid anywhere near me. Gives me the shivers.
See you next time for Chapter 14!