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Riddle Me This:

Many years ago (well, it feels like that, although it was actually no more than ten) JK Rowling made the statement in an interview that she didn’t want just a 2-dimensional baddie dressed up in black, but a villain whose motivations the reader could understand.

Evidently you can’t always get what you want. Not even if you are JK Rowling.

Not even if you have only yourself to thank if you don’t get it.

Let alone apparently not being able to recognize what you actually have.

Where most of the Harry Potter fandom is concerned, it seems to have taken a lot longer than it really ought to have for the realization to sink in that JK Rowling levicorpused just about all of our assumptions regarding Tom Riddle and his works every bit as thoroughly over the course of HBP as she did most of the reader’s assumptions regarding Severus Snape at the end of that book.

And with the release of DHs, it became increasingly clear that she completely failed to recognize that fact herself because she threw the whole thing out and started making up new versions of the first scenario which no longer fit!

Which ultimately convinced me that she hadn’t a clue of what she thought she was doing with this series. Nothing that she tells us regarding the villain of her piece adds up. There is no logic, reason, or plausibility to it.

Didn’t the silly bint realize what she was saying?

The competing versions are in absolute contradiction to each other.

You cannot have it both ways.

And, I’m sorry, but you definitely can’t pull that kind of stunt and convince me that what you are telling me is the truth. You don’t even convince me that you have any bare idea of what you are talking about. Especially when what your first “big reveal” on the subject actually revealed was something that finally worked according to what we had been shown. In defiance of the story that the characters all seemed to be telling us — and your subsequent reversal doesn’t.

We might have happily accepted that the characters had somehow gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick. In fact, we might have regarded that as clever.

What we’ve finally got is just plain not clever. It’s lazy, and it’s stupid. It's an unmitigated mess.

The very kindest conclusion I am likely to draw is that your characters are all fools. And, frankly, Ms Rowling, you went out of your way to demonstrate that, repeatedly, over the course of DHs. What happened? Did the NHS hold a special group rate on frontal lobotomies and you decided to sign everyone up? Or did you simply think that your readers were all fools?

We’re not, you know. Even if we do read children’s books from choice.

So, I’m afraid that I am going to just stick with the reading of Tom Riddle that was unveiled by the end of HBP (however unconsciously, or inadvertently). That one at least made a kind of sense. Unlike the version that we had been given in the 5 books previous. Or, ghod help us, in DHs.

Going into the penultimate book of the series we were convinced that:

1. Lord Voldemort’s goals were political.

2. The Death Eaters had originally been an organization calling itself the Knights of Walpurgis.

3. Lord Voldemort and his “message” had at one point enjoyed a broad popularity among the pureblood sector of the wizarding public. In fact it was suggested that his popularity had not necessarily even been confined to purebloods.

4. That something had happened to disabuse the wizarding public of their beliefs on this issue when his “true goals” were revealed.

5. And that either this grand unveiling or his “first rise” to power had begun some time around 1970.

Over the course of the first 5 books, there was even a strong suggestion that at one point Lord Voldemort was actually “in power”. This is an illusion shared by rather a lot of the characters within the series (particularly House Elves employed by DE families), but it was always clear to the reader that it was never actually the case. The Ministry of Magic was always officially “in power”.

Post-HBP it was now clear that none of these assumptions were ever the case.

For Tom Riddle it had always been personal. He just dressed it up in traditional-sounding political rhetoric.

We haven’t a clue of what Rowling thought she was on about with the Knights of Walpurgis.

Voldemort’s message seems to have never even been publicly proclaimed, let alone publicly supported. Acto Cornelius Fudge, the Ministry had pegged him as a terrorist leader and had been trying to capture him since the mid-1960s.


As of the release of HBP we finally knew that:

The wizarding public has always viewed Lord Voldemort as a threat.

And, excuse me, but if Regulus Black, as per DHs, was making scrapbooks of Riddle’s statements they must have been statements that the Ministry was running through the Prophet in order to demonstrate that Riddle was a threat. Unless Tom was sending rants to the Editor and the Prophet was printing them. Because he certainly wasn't holding public rallies.

There are more effective and serious-minded ways to defy authority than pinning up pictures of bikini babes and motorcycles on your bedroom wall. More dangerous ways, too.

Riddle started his “rise to power” upon his return to the wizarding world at some point, probably between 1958 and 1962. We still do not know what Dumbledore’s 1981 statement that the wizarding world had “had precious little to celebrate for 11 years.” referred to. By this time it may be no more than a bit of flotsam which linked to an early plot intention that Rowling was unable to fit into the story.

Or it could more plausibly be a reference as to exactly when “Lord Voldemort” had rendered himself unmentionable.

After all, even though everyone says “You-know-who” it is clear that everyone does know who is being spoken of. His activities were evidently public enough and went on long enough for everyone to have learned what name he was going by, even if he did ultimately manage to frighten the public into never speaking it.

And have we any idea why they believed they ought not to speak it?

Not until DHs we didn’t. And the only reason it came up then was that by that time Voldemort finally had the Ministry’s resources at his command and was able to make it so. i.e., it only became an issue after Voldemort won. It certainly hadn’t been before that.

Rowling had never established that names, let alone “true” names have any particular power in the Potterverse. Albus only told us that the refusal to speak Voldemort’s chosen name gave that name more power than it merited.

If she were invoking the tradition that True Names have power over their subject, people opposed to him would have all been calling him Tom Riddle.

Speaking his name didn’t enable him to hear you. It didn’t summon him. Speaking his name didn’t put you under his power. What’s the beef? There seems to be no point to it. We were just expected to go “Oooooo”, accept it, and move on without asking questions, like sheep. That’s annoying.

Even when she finally gave this nonsense some belated validation, the execution was lame. Speak “the name” and someone in a Ministry office somewhere will register it and send a squad of Enforcers after you. So, back in VWI was everyone expecting the Ministry to come down on them for naming the enemy? (Well it was Barty Crouch Sr setting the policy, so maybe.) But if so we ought to have been told about it. And if so, how often did Crouch have to send Enforcers up to Hogwarts to have a talk with Dumbledore?

Riddle’s followers called him “the Dark Lord”. Why didn’t the Ministry monitor that phrase and get some idea who his followers were? Save them a lot of effort if they had known who to watch.

I really do think it the whole issue of the taboo was just a transparent, last-minute, cobbled-together addition just to enable Harry to capture himself, because Rowling couldn’t think of any other way of getting the trio into Malfoy Manor. It’s clear she was convinced that she really needed to get them into Malfoy Manor. But it was yet another in that lengthening list of disposable plot devices. Use once, and discard. And this one was worse than most because it was pure balognium.

Even though most of the elements of the Potterverse seem to have been assembled in a haphazard “1 from column A; 2 from column B” manner, when an author of a “proper” fantasy story makes use of a traditional fantasy “trope” of this sort, they should always have the decency to explain how it works in their particular universe. And in some 3300 pages, Rowling evidently just could not be arsed to do that. And in fact in the first 3300 pages the bloody trope didn’t even work.


It occurs to me that I’ve seen something like this situation before. Embedded inside another piece of fiction. One which I think it rather likely that Rowling may have encountered. For it is a fairly well-known snippet by Rudyard Kipling. Not that that particular fact is likely to be relevant here. The whole recollection is unlikely to be relevant here. Still, to summarize:

In Mr Kipling’s story; ‘The Potted Princess’ the actual story is framed by the situation of a native nursemaid, or Ayah, attempting to entertain a small English child by telling him a story in the traditional style.

Unfortunately, the child, who is not a part of the tradition from which the story is drawn, and is, moreover, probably too young to have yet “groked” the traditional conventions of storytelling in themselves, rather than settling down and listening to the storyteller, keeps interrupting the telling by asking questions, which the Ayah keeps having to field, before she can return to her narrative.

No more are we a part of the “traditions” of the Potterverse (if any). And we have no clear idea of what the traditions of the Potterverse really are. A story thrown together from random elements, without regard to why these elements are supposed to fit together in the first place, is not necessarily going to make the slightest bit of sense to an outsider. It all comes across as a cheap authorial effort to make the situation sound more exotic or more dangerous than it is. And I decline the invitation to fill in the blank myself. That is the author’s job, and she didn’t do it.

I find myself rather grateful to Mr Kipling for reminding me of that.

Indeed, once the connection finally sank in, I found myself considering Mr Kipling’s imprisoned Princess and her half-blood Prince (described as such in the text), and the small child listener’s triumphant affirmation of the Prince’s declaration: “A pot is a pot, and I am the son of a potter!” And I could not help but wonder what kind of a paraphrase we might have here.

It is with some slight reluctance that I concluded that this is probably not one of Ms Rowling’s little jokes. I would have liked to have given her the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, she did such a thoroughgoing job of upending several prior volumes’s worth of assumptions in HBP that I was prepared to suspect that she might have been attempting something every bit as clever as her fans were industriously trying to credit. Alas, no such luck. She was merely trying to shock and surprise. Never mind whether or not what she pulled out of her hat — or the hat itself — actually fit.

And while all of our early faulty assumptions had been somewhat swept to the sidelines, even if not completely swept away in the wake of the revelations of HBP, they seemed to have been largely replaced by another one, which, even then, I suspected was at least equally faulty.

We now assumed that we knew all there is to know about Tom Riddle.

I was sure we didn’t.

We were still missing the whole point.

Which in the wake of DHs appears to be that there was no point.

There is no point to Tom Riddle. No point at all. He is the bogyman under the bed. He is inept without being comical. He is just some incoherent thing to be afraid of.

Can you blame me for preferring the version we had at the end of HBP?


For all that Albus Dumbledore conducted us on a tour of young Tom Riddle’s life and times, he was able to tell us next to nothing of Tom’s motivations.

We hadn’t got a clue of why the boy turned out to be a sociopath. Sociopathic personality disorder is not an hereditary condition. Having a snooty father, who was drugged, and a dangerously inbred mother, who had no common sense, is not a recipe for producing a sociopath. Particularly when neither one of the parents had the slightest direct input on the kid’s upbringing. And, grim as it was, Tom’s orphanage was clearly set up as being run by well-meaning people who tried to do their best for the children entrusted to their care. On limited resources.

Yet it was obvious that young Tom was a nasty bit of work by the age of 11. Albus recognized that his instincts for cruelty, secrecy, and domination were far too well developed. Also that his power of will was so strong as to have already brought his magic at least partially under control, with no outside training.

And we got NO clue as to what set him onto his path.

So. Are you willing to accept “because the author says so” as an adequate explanation? Because I’m not at all sure that I am.

At the time, we knew she had at least one more bombshell to lob at us regarding former Professor Snape (probably a whole series of them). I wouldn’t have bet much against the probability that she had at least one more in reserve with Tom Riddle’s name on it, too.

Instead over the course of DHs she puffed him up like a balloon. Made him bigger, crazier, and more looming, but left him with far, far less in the way of substance.

My own suspicions had been that when he finally went — and there was no doubt that he would go, his life was botched beyond recovery — there was nothing left for him here; he would take at least some degree of our pity with him. Or at least our recognition of the monumental waste of a life.

No such luck. Evidently even Harry’s weensy bit of sympathy for the orphaned infant Riddle (or the flayed suffering thing in the celestial King’s Cross Station) was just a momentary boyish weakness.


This particular article was originally entitled ‘‘Tom Riddle and the Knights of Walpurgis’ and it was an examination of what kind of faction in the wizarding world might have taken a young Tom Riddle under their wing, and groomed him for their purposes. Purposes which he ultimately rejected.

I had dubbed this group “Grindelwald’s geezers”, and it was an integral component of my original “Grindelwald Conspiracy” theory, which with HBP has been completely exploded. Originally, taking information given us by Rowling in an interview made before the release of OotP, I had postulated that these wizards were a clique of pureblood isolationists who were members of the fraternal organization known as the Knights of Walpurgis, a group which JKR had identified as an organization that Voldemort had taken over and repurposed into the Death Eaters.

We can now see that this was not the case. If nothing else the Pensieve presentation on The Life and Times of T.M. Riddle demonstrated that Tom Riddle was self-trained and self-determined before he ever heard of the wizarding world. And that, if he ever “took over” the Knights of Walpurgis he must have done it by default, winning the hearts and minds of their children when those children had been at school with him. No organization recognizable as the Knights of Walpurgis figures in the narrative as it stands now.

Well, the repository for exploded theories is the collection entitled ‘The 7th Son Collection’ in the Potterverse UNhallowed collection on the next level down, so you can read it there, if you’re interested. It looks a bit comical now.

But it might not be a bad idea to take a final look at the Knights of Walpurgis and see if there is any actual context into which they still fit in the narrative that we actually have.

The first thing to remember is that the Knights themselves do not actually appear anywhere in the official canon. They were referred to only in an interview. And while Rowling claims that she does not deliberately lie about what she tells us in her interviews, what she tells us does not always pan out in the finished version. I suspect that the Knights may be one of the potential elements that simply did not pan out. (Or, of course that she, like Albus, was playing a double-bluff and that she does deliberately lie to us in her interviews.)

But is there a context floating around into which they might reasonably fit?

Damn straight there is.

They were the model upon which the Slug Club was based.

No one’s ever claimed that the Knights of Walpurgis were inherently evil. Nor that it was founded for evil purposes. I don’t think it was.

No, what I suspect is that it was something very much in the style of a high-profile, high-status, highly respected fraternal organization along the same lines of the Oddfellows Club, or the Shriners, or the Glorious Order of the Moose or whoever. And its purpose was to advance the lot of those “deserving,” but less fortunate, who fit their most desired demographic. In return, these beneficiaries would advance the goals of their benefactors, and later would take up the torch and pass it on. It was the whole underlying Patron/client network given an identity and a name.

The Knights may not have even been an “all Purebloods” organization at its inception. Although it certainly became so later on. Certainly once Seclusion was established. It may not even have been a specifically wizarding Isolationist group, although we have no way of knowing that for certain. But by the start of the 20th century I rather suspect that it was that particular crowd of Old Boys who were running the Club. And much of the rest of the wizarding world as well, probably. Or at least they felt they ought to be.

And even if they weren’t all die-hard Isolationists, they were convinced they were the crème de la crème of wizarding society.

If Slughorn is a member — and if it isn’t explicitly an Isolationist group he may very well be a member — that membership is one of his most precious bits of distinction. Since we don’t know who the Slughorns are when they are at home he may even be one of the formerly “deserving” who owes them his unending gratitude.

So where does Tom Riddle come in?

Well he evidently wasn’t taken up by them as a boy, as I first thought, and spun a fine conspiracy theory from. They may well have contributed to the Governors’ Fund for indigent students but they didn’t take a personal interest in him.

And he wasn’t taken up by them as a young man working at Borgin & Burkes, either. He had his own agenda by that time. He was after that locket of Slytherin’s that his uncle Morfin had mentioned, and B&B was the best place to get a lead on it. Such items occasionally change hands, and there was every chance of it turning up there eventually. There wasn’t a lot that the Knights could do about helping him find it, though. Although he no doubt managed to impress any number of them with his “modest young wizard” impersonation when they showed up in the shop. I suspect more than a few of them were valued customers of B&B.

He had also been at school with any number of their children, however. And quite a few of those children had been part of his old gang. But at that point he was still acting alone. He may or may not have kept in touch with a few favorites, but he was not setting up anything like the DEs during the period that he was out of school and searching for the locket.

It wasn’t until his return to the ww after his self-imposed 10-year exile that we get any solid indication that he had been bitten by the “World Domination” bug. But by the time of that interview with Albus he had already collected at least a few “fellow travelers”.

Which ones? Why, the most collectable ones, of course.

The ones who regarded themselves as the crème de la crème of wizarding society.

One of whom may have invited him to a Knights meeting as a guest.

He was no longer going by the name of Tom Riddle, by then. And he no longer particularly resembled the handsome young fellow of uncertain parentage who they had gone to school with. They may have all regarded it as a bit of a lark. “I say! This is Lord Voldemort from abroad who is hoping to become the new DADA Professor at Hogwarts.”

Well why not?

So he goes, and he sees that, as he expected, it is just the Slug Club grown up. Run by a lot of old fogies going on about how wonderful they are.

And a lot of bored scions kicking their heels around the edges, impatiently waiting for their daddies to turn loose of the reins.

Bored, rich, pure-blooded, high-status scions. With nothing much to occupy them.


Highly collectable resources.

Not just the ones he went to school with, either. There have been several new crops since he left Britain. All of them now in one place.

Not all of them suitable, of course. Some of them lack the degree of resentment that makes them easy to catch, or the taste for violence that makes them worth keeping. But that can be sorted out later.

And, it also turns out that some have wives and families to whom they are devoted. That won’t do either. Not that families are a bad thing, necessarily. It isn’t just the Knights who should perpetuate themselves over the generations. But Riddle ought to have first claim on his followers’s attentions. (Riddle’s note to self: enlist the young ones before they acquire wives and families. Then you inherit their sons as well)

Oh, yes, I think we still have a potential use for the Knights of Walpurgis. The Knights may still exist to this day. But I doubt that Riddle has any part of it. Officially, or otherwise.

But it would be a mistake to assume that the Knights are all Riddle’s followers. Just as much as it is to assume that all Slytherins are DEs.

After all, I am sure Arcturus and Orion Black were both members in good standing.


The rest of this article, however is still trying to thrash out a canon-compatible answer to this particular Riddle.

In short: just what is it that the man wants?

Taking into account the fact that Riddle is a true sociopath, (which has seemed evident to me ever since CoS) I have always seriously doubted that even that “true family” of his choice that he spoke of held any higher place in his affections than did the “true family” of his birth. Or that his ultimate intentions regarding either of them were significantly different. Albus Dumbledore, despite his alleged determination to always attempt to see the best in people obviously agreed with me. And tells us as much.

And, notwithstanding the history of the long decline of the House of Gaunt, Voldemorts are made, not born.

In fact, sociopaths are made very early in life, and, in the Potterverse, quite possibly only under conditions which may not typically be found inside the wizarding world. By the time Tom Riddle received his Hogwarts letter the damage was done. Albus Dumbledore may have compounded it by taking one look at the boy and distancing himself, but he didn’t cause it.

He might have limited the damage if he had not been so busy sitting on his hands. It is possible he considered it to be the career of Tom Marvolo Riddle which has constituted one of the life of Albus Dumbledore’s “hugest mistakes”.

But if the boy really was a sociopath, by the time Albus caught up with him, it was already far too late, for Tom.


It isn’t the fact that the boy was a loner that Albus mistrusted. Albus ought to be quite familiar with the kind of isolation that a kid who is smarter than just about everyone around him tends to find himself in.

That is one more reason to look askance at Remus’s contention that James and Sirius were the brightest students of their year. They may have been a match for the Weasley twins, or even a bit ahead of them, and they may certainly have been the brightest of their year in Gryffindor. But they were no Albus Dumbledore. And their chief advantage was a pooling of resources, and an amplifying exchange of ideas, not individual brilliance. Together they were indeed formidable. Separate, they were bright, clever boys, but not prodigies.

What may have set Albus’s alarm system off about Riddle is that Riddle was not just a loner, he was a user. And he did not care about anyone but himself. So long as we are playing “compare and contrast”, we got zero suggestion anywhere in canon that Severus Snape is a user. If anything, give him a kind word and he is far too willing to allow himself to be used. And if Snape does not care about people, it is because he does not let himself care. Which, however regrettable, is a long way from being incapable of it. Even Albus, who is not really all that emotionally aware, would have recognized that. Eventually. If he’d let himself.

Unlike James and Sirius, or the twins, for that matter, but more like Hermione — and Riddle, it has to be admitted, or even Percy Weasley — Severus seems to have projected a far more favorable image to persons in authority than he did to anyone in his “peer group”. Slughorn seems to have thought reasonably well of him.

But Riddle, unlike either Percy or Hermione, took the effort to enthrall his contemporaries as well as to impress his elders.

As to that; the 11-year-old Riddle also claimed to be able to make other people feel what he wanted them to, so I suspect that his influence on his housemates, even at the beginning, was not altogether a matter of his playing with an unmarked deck.

And whatever that particular magical gift is, it is mercifully rare. We don’t know whether it even has a name. I don’t think we’ve ever heard of it anywhere else in canon. But if this was ever supposed to be important, Rowling snuck it past us so quickly that most of us didn’t even notice, and it never really came back to bite us until Ron was handed a sword and told it was his privilege to destroy the Locket. We may have also seen this skill demonstrated on stage in the case of Professor Quirrell.


But, really, one suddenly has to wonder just how much input Ms Rowling’s recent commitment to the campaign to eliminate the use of cage beds in the orphanages of eastern Europe had upon the writing of HBP (it seems to have had none on DHs). The article which drew her attention to the issue ran in 2003. By that time the manuscript of OotP was already at the publishers, and it’s impact, however great upon Rowling, could have had no effect up through volume five of the series.

Still, for all that Tom’s orphanage was clearly not in the same vein as those documented in eastern Europe, and the use of cage beds was not, so far as I know, ever adopted in Britain, it is very difficult to hear of Rowling’s views on the matter, of the children subjected to such treatment and their “attachment issues”, and not to reflect upon Tom Riddle, whom no one had ever loved.

That Mrs Cole tells us that Tom was a “funny” boy, and that he had evidently been so virtually from birth suggests that the fundamental damage to young Tom Riddle was done long before any ill-intentioned human agency could have gotten their hooks into him. The only way that anyone could have saved Tom would have been to have gotten him out of that orphanage and into an affectionate foster family before he had the chance to develop a sociopathic personality disorder in the first place.

And, no, the orphanage did not make him what he was, either. But it didn’t help. (Harry, by contrast, would have probably managed to be mildly happy in that orphanage. More so than he was with the Dursleys, at any rate. He would have had friends there.)


For one thing, I seriously doubt that Tom was the first young bully to have ever grown up in that orphanage. All it would have taken is for a slightly older such example of bully to have deliberately hurt or frightened Tom when he was a tot of 2 or 3 to make him form the determination to be the one who held all of the power of pain or fear over others, once he was bigger, and stronger and had the force to do it. But that only set his goals, it did not make him a sociopath. He was already a sociopath.

I think we are still missing a crucial piece of information, here.

And in defense of my original theory, one would expect that as a child who could make himself personable to adults and to adolescents alike, when he cared to, he might well attract the sort of attention which intends to make use of such a child.

But he doesn’t seem to have done so. Or not at the orphanage. He seems to have taken up a stance of opposition to his fellow inmates and the staff (for whom he has no respect) and never wavered from it. He never even tried to use them.

It is likely that once he got to Hogwarts and “turned over a new leaf” Tom was well-developed enough as a Legilimens to see through the intent of anyone who meant to use him for their purposes, he, in a simmering fury over any such “betrayal”, would have begun to take steps to make himself much more powerful than they ever could anticipate, in order to prevent them from ever benefiting from any of his actions. You can even read something of this between the lines in his interactions with Horace Slughorn.

No. He would use them! All of them. Forever.

And a child to whom nothing in his earliest life, including affection or attachment, was ever merely offered, one who was convinced of the need to *take* every advantage he has ever gained by means of subterfuge and stealth, (until he grew to the point of being able to effectively apply force and fear) does not typically learn the virtue of gratitude.

And he was a natural Legilimens. That was evident when Albus brought him his Hogwarts letter. At some point Tom Riddle must have discovered how to magically hone those instinctive skills to the point that he saw through his housemates’ rhetoric to their real opinions of any half-blood. By this point, in the series, in all of his appearances on stage, if you try to squint past the bombast of what is always at least partially a “performance” (even if only to an audience of one) Voldemort’s utter contempt toward wizards is just as clear to the reader as is his despising of Muggles. In DHs it is clear that this contempt extends to his followers as well.

Compare this to the situation of the debriefing interview at the end of OotP between Harry and Dumbledore.

By Harry’s age Tom had learned the inestimable value of being able to conceal his reactions; but he certainly would have had reactions to such a discovery as Harry made about a would-be mentors’ opinions regarding him, let alone any suggestions to enlist, or use him. Yes, even such innocent and benign usage as Horace Slughorn’s determination to name-drop and boast of having “known him when he was a boy”.

Dumbledore made mistakes, yes, big ones. He probably made a great many more of them than he even realized or admitted to. And he certainly made more, and worse ones, than we were aware of until after his death. But by the end of OotP he clearly doesn’t see Harry as nothing more than a tool. And Harry’s earliest upbringing has been such as to instill enough innate honesty that he could not convince himself that Dumbledore had tricked him, even if he had withheld critical information from him.

Besides, when the ballots are all in, Dumbledore had done no more than to confirm that yes, there is a monster out there who wants Harry dead, and Dumbledore is trying to help keep him alive. Of all of Harry’s reactions at the end of OotP the only one that truly seems closest to a direct echo of Tom’s is not his response to Dumbledore, it is his fixation on Snape, whose input into Sirius Black’s death was negligible, but who Harry seems determined to blame for it. Rather than himself.


But by the time Riddle dropped out of sight after the murder of Hepzibah Smith he knew his target faction’s party line backward and forward and could quote it chapter and verse. He knew who the easily deluded were and, probably, the name of their fraternal organization. And he held them all in contempt. He despised the older generation, Muggle or wizard.

But every child, every bored scion who was motivated by a desire for power over other people was his meat. He could use that desire for his ends. And when he decided it was time to make his move towards setting up his very own personal bid for absolute power, he knew what to promise them and was able to reel them and, ultimately, their descendants right to heel, to serve him as his tools. All promises phrased in terms that they certainly “could” have, but probably “would” not manage to refuse. He had no intentions of ever fulfilling his promises to them. When they had served his purposes, he would see them slaughtered like sheep.

(After GoF I found myself wondering if the older Death Eater, Nott, in the graveyard scene was one of the original followers who had taken Tom in — and were taken in by him in turn — when he was just a boy at Hogwarts. And I discover that while I had the details wrong, I had the essence of the matter absolutely right. There was a Nott among his very earliest followers, and we are given to suspect it was the same man.)

Also, allow me to say, right off the top, that I think the last thing that Voldemort really wanted is what he claimed he wanted when he is out addressing his troops. Rowling was flatly not able to convince me of that when she flip-flopped back to her first version of “what Riddle wants”.

It has finally surfaced for many of us that there was a great deal less to Tom Riddle than we were led to believe. That, in fact, we had yet another case of arrested development here.

Stop and think for a moment. Tom showed every intention of eventually overturning the Ministry of Magic’s authority, and even in HBP he seemed probably capable of doing it, but did he have any coherent plan of setting anything functional in its place?

We certainly hadn’t been given any hint of it. And what Rowling did give us after the fall of the Ministry was an overblown cartoon that was totally unbelievable, and was dependent upon the premise of a sheep-like populace which rolled over and accepted a Ministry policy flip-flop from; “Beware of You-Know-Who and the DEs!” to “Beware of the Muggle-borns who are stealing your magic!” in scarcely a month with not even a peep of protest, let alone resistance.

What we got was an incoherent muddle of pre-adolescent ranting against any kind of established authority, and rude names directed at anyone his followers have been brought up to regard as inferiors. Indeed by the time we were privileged to be in attendance upon one of his “mustering of the troops” in GoF the rhetoric was so overdone and bombastic that it almost came across as a deliberate mockery of his audience. You could practically envision him posturing and strutting about with a wooden sword, wearing folded newspaper bicorn hat.

And somehow everything was all about him.

This is familiar, you know? Have we ever seen this kind of thing before? This narcissistic demand for absolute submission, trust, and support. This conviction that to state a thing is so, and by the sheer force of “will” it is going to make it so. And that if it doesn’t, it still might just as well be, because everyone will be forced to accept it and behave accordingly anyway. This utter refusal of the basic social contract, and a refusal to even to submit to the natural order and be subject to it’s cycles of death and rebirth.

Well, yes, we have.

Elsewhere in English children’s literature, in fact.

Classic English children’s literature.

Very, very classic English children’s literature.

Not literature produced by Mr Kipling, to be sure, but from around the same era.

I would suggest that most of us have indeed met exactly another such character who reneged upon the social contract at an implausibly early age, made his escape into a world of danger, magic, and wonders, and who flatly refused to ever take personal responsibility for anything, or to comply with society’s expectations.

And yet, nevertheless, confidently expected that anything he chose to want should be handed over to him as an entitlement. Or, he would simply take it.

Furthermore, this character, who is possessed of virtually supernatural levels of charisma, and who has a low tolerance for tranquility, went on to make a point of seeking out other young boys who had proven to be directionless (and dull-witted) enough to have drifted outside the safety nets their families had initially provided, and proceeded to lure them out of the workaday world into one which gives normal children nightmares, to be his followers. He’s forbidden them all to know anything that he does not, and leads them in a life of gratuitous, never-(never-)ending conflict against a group of adults whose enmity has resulted in the whole lot of them being collectively hunted. And so they live in hiding, as fugitives.

And just to add the (green) frosting on the poisonous cake: should any of his young followers show signs of outgrowing him; he kills them.

I’m old enough to recall the ’70s and ’80s during which there was a fair bit of ongoing pop-psych discussion regarding the “Peter Pan” Syndrome. I think Rowling has given us a shining example of it.

And once you realize that, rather a lot of other things begin to fall into place.


For Riddle himself it was never really political. Or at least it was never consciously political. That’s just part of the performance. For him it really IS the cult of personality. And, as the Lj user known as Swythyv was early to point out, he preys upon children. They are the ones most likely to be impressed by him, and they are the ones who are most likely to be led into supporting his ersatz “cause” through the combined lures of adolescent rebellion, and peer pressure.

I doubt that he has ever, once he set up his initial little band, enlisted a follower who was significantly over the age of 30.

Or even 25.

And even the first ones, who were certainly around 30 by the time he set up his little band of lost boys, probably followed him then because they were already used to following him when they were at school.

And the Ministry was trying to combat him by conventional political measures since they don’t really understand what they are dealing with. It is small wonder that their efforts are doomed from the start. If Tom Riddle is an unwise child — and he is an extremely unwise child — they are a passel of exceedingly foolish grown-ups.

The kids he targeted in the beginning were the very crown of wizarding society.

They were the top of the trees. Even in the Potterverse “present” there is a lingering assumption of inherent pureblood superiority. 50 years ago, that assumption was even more open and it overlaid everything.

50 years ago, the Slug Club was composed of a half a dozen teenagers. All boys, possibly all Slytherins (although not necessarily) and with the exception of Riddle, very probably all purebloods from prominent families.

30 years later, Muggle-born Gryffindor Lily Evans was a shining star in this little constellation. 20 years later yet, Slughorn has included any number of witches, non-Slytherins, blood-traitors and mixed-bloods in his Club. I don’t think that would have happened in Riddle’s day.

And we have known from the chapter in which we first met the young Riddle, that he likes to collect trophies. At Hogwarts, he was collecting trophy followers even more determinedly than Slughorn was.

It isn’t precisely that he genuinely believes that pureblood wizards are the only ones worth knowing or being, but that — at the time he started doing it — they were the most valuable ones worth collecting. So his whole line of rhetoric is calibrated to appeal to that specific group. (Which *really* raises the question of what Snape is doing there among them.)

And his early followers were already a lot of spoilt prats who were drunk on their own sense of entitlement. He just used that, and extended the argument that if they were entitled, they were therefore entitled to do whatever they wanted, to whomever they wanted, however socially unapproved it might be, even by the tenets of their own society. And he would give them that particular outlet and the opportunity to do it too, so long as they accepted his leadership, guidance, and control.

And it is clear that Tom Riddle is still essentially a nasty child who treats the entire world as his very own model train set. He will spend months setting up the tracks, and building the villages, and setting out the little tiny trees, until he is ready to flip the switch, let her rip, and enjoy the resulting train wreck.


I still thought that most of the fans were making a big mistake when they assumed that Riddle’s personal goals and those of his followers were one and the same. Or that what we hear him say about his goals to anybody has any resemblance to the truth. Tom Riddle didn’t get to where he is by telling other people his secrets. Nothing that Tom Riddle says to anyone else is exempt from being, on some level, a variety of “performance”.

Unfortunately for his supporters, Tom had a natural bent for Legilimency, and by the age of 11 those skills had developed to the point that he could get enough of a glimpse into most people’s motives for him to have already learned that people are not to be trusted, and to suspect ulterior motives on everyone’s part. What is more, by the time he reached his 5th year at Hogwarts and had finally found the Chamber of Secrets he had already sharpened those skills enough to have seen through his companions.

He had already learned from them the knee-jerk loathing for mixed-bloods and mudbloods and Muggles that a certain type of pureblood harbors. He had also learned of the disdain and the fear, contempt, and distrust that various groups of human wizards frequently hold for every other magical species. And he was willing to use all of these attitudes to further his own goals by way of the classic strategy of divide and conquer. He does not necessarily really share any of these attitudes. He himself approves of no group. Or in the long run, any individual. Only himself.

But he will use them all. Gladly.

Oh, yes, he personally despised Muggles, it was Muggles who first thwarted him, and frightened him, and let him down. He will do them a bad turn whenever the opportunity presents itself.

And he developed a very real and very personal loathing for his father — and not without at least some cause, given that he only ever got his uncle Morfin’s version of the matter.

...Which brings up the point, I will not dwell upon it, that the subtext of the Gaunt melange is one of the ugliest things in canon. The taunts and slurs that Morfin Gaunt directs at his sister come across a good deal less as those of an older brother than as signs of sexual jealousy on his own part. And old Marvolo’s reaction to those taunts isn’t what it ought to be either.

But I suspect that Tom’s rhetorical “foul, filthy, common Muggle father” was a comparatively empty epithet, his loathing would have been just as intense had his father been a wizard who had abandoned him.

However; he was raised among Muggles, and he was off the radar for a decade after he murdered Hepzibah Smith and dropped out of sight. If I am wrong, and there ever was more to him than a nasty overgrown child who was content to simply make a concerted effort to frighten the bejezus out of everyone, then the Potterverse had a bigger problem on its hands than we’ve gotten any indication of.

But Muggles were not his top priority target. If he was anywhere near as clever as everyone seems to agree he was (not that we saw any evidence of it), he must have known perfectly well that there are far too many Muggles out there for him to have much of an effect upon. Or at least, not so long as he was a mortal man.

Hold that thought.


Riddle ought to have had a very good idea of just how many Muggles, and more to the point, just how few wizards, there are in the world. And the wizarding numbers are low enough — less than half a million at most, thinly dispersed across the planet — that one man with a mission and a group of willing and deluded followers might very well be able to dominate, or destroy, all of them, eventually. Particularly if he can get that roiling sea of Muggles into the act, and he personally has unlimited time in which to accomplish it.

I think that if Tom Riddle was as bright as everyone tried to convince us (and they may have been right in that, but that doesn’t mean he was rational) and if I was wrong, and he really did have a coherent goal in mind, what Lord Voldemort may have intended is nothing more or less than to overturn the International Act of Wizarding Seclusion. In fact, to unleash his followers onto the unsuspecting Muggle world. Without any limits. At all.

In short; to throw both of the groups that he most despises at one another in a fight to the death.

And given the numbers involved, is there any doubt who would win?

He knew how thoroughly Muggles outnumber wizards. And, having spent the latter part of his childhood in a Muggle nation in the grip of a *total* war (assuming that Potterverse Britain was involved in a mid-century Muggle war, even if not a wizarding one), he had at least a very good idea of just how thoroughly destructive they can be. And just how far they will go in the service of dogma.

Particularly if they are frightened. And he certainly meant to frighten them.

Several dozen Dark wizards let off their leashes might well do inestimable damage before the Muggles finally caught on; Particularly with a Giant or two along to help them. Not to mention the Inferi, some werewolves, and the Dementors. But how long do you think that wizards would last once Muggles fully realized they were up against the supernatural? And do you think those Muggles would be all that scrupulous in distinguishing between “good” wizards and “bad” wizards?

Well do you?

And if wizards can be brought under full Muggle attack, what are the odds of the Goblins managing to escape. Or the Centaurs, or, in fact, any of the magical races.

After all, why stop at being the most powerful wizard in the world if you can be the only wizard in the world?


But, of course, first he had to make himself immortal, or where’s the fun in that? And afterwards, he would be able to stir things up enough that any new wizarding child that is discovered will be summarily destroyed. While he carries on, the “good work”, immortal and untouchable. Whittling away at the Muggle masses at his leisure. All the world will walk in terror of his name.

In short, he intended to set himself up — not as the classic Evil Overlord — but as the universal bogyman.

So, once he had his deathlessness arranged for, and anyone who might still recall the existence of young Tom Riddle was either firmly under his thumb, or no longer in a position to be an inconvenience, and the one person he is still leery about confronting was safely occupied in a physically isolated and demanding job — especially once this inveterate meddler is safely on the road to spreading himself too thin by trying to oversee everything that affects an entire wizarding Nation — Tom surfaced and after one final, still unspecified errand in the “enemy camp”, (ETA: as I had earlier speculated, he went to dump a Horcrux) he went recruiting from among the sort of wizard with which he is most familiar. And whose conduct and behavior, I suspect may occasionally disgust him. Which is to say, the sort of wizard who is ripe for evil to begin with, and needs only “permission” to do his worst. Which he would happily give them.

Until the whole series went to hell in Rowling’s handbasket it was staggeringly easy to believe that Voldemort used his followers’ fear and loathing of Muggles and mudbloods as — on his part an almost completely cynical — rallying cry, and he had traditionally given them pretty much of a free pass to wreak as much havoc as they please, so long as they could keep from being caught and shut down.

This enabled him to broaden his range of initial targets to include any half-blood or pureblood wizard — and their families — who opposed him. He also probably made a point of periodically having his followers target the wizarding families of apparent non-combatants as a way of upping the overall terror index.

Once he reached the final stages of his first rise, and the gloves were off, the more outrageous their behavior the better for his purposes. And he was making tremendous progress. In the minds of the public, he was winning.

Sirius Black’s description of the wizarding world during the final period of VoldWar I goes as follows:

“Imagine that Voldemort’s powerful now. You don’t know who his supporters are, you don’t know who’s working for him and who isn’t; you know that he can control people so that they do terrible things without being able to stop themselves. You’re scared for yourself, and your family, and your friends. Every week, news comes of more deaths, more disappearances, more torturing... the Ministry of Magic’s in disarray, they don’t know what to do, they’re trying to keep everything hidden from the Muggles, but meanwhile, the Muggles are dying too. Terror everywhere... panic... confusion... that’s how it used to be.”

Knowing what we know now, we can see that this situation could have been brought about with remarkably little real actual support within the wizarding world. If Rowling’s statement in the joint interview, that the British wizarding world consists of some 3,000 witches and wizards, an “army” of between 5 and 6 dozen Death Eaters, with a willingness to indulge in lavish use of the Imperius Curse could do it quite handily. Particularly when you factor in a similar number of Inferi at their command, a pack of werewolves to call upon on nights of the full moon and the odd Giant or two to do the heavy lifting.

Back in the first war, Tom did not have the Dementors.

Nor did he really need them. He already had everyone exactly where he wanted them.

With the Ministry doing its part in the confusion by preying on its own constituency, trying to hobble him. They were effectively acting as his publicity department.

And then Sybil Trelawney made her stupid Prophecy, and he believed it, which was the point at which it all came tumbling down like a house of cards.


Well, as of HBP, he’s back now. And after stringing him along for nearly a year and wasting his time, Albus Dumbledore finally revealed to him (through Harry) just how thoroughly he managed to shoot himself in the foot over the matter of that damned Prophecy.

Yes, I am convinced that he had hitched one last ride in Harry’s head for that debriefing session. And I’ve yet to see anything in canon that contradicts it, and a great deal in DHs which strongly suggests that I did get that one right. Albus’s official statements to the contrary notwithstanding — and upon closer examination, even they don’t actually contradict it.

Well, the outcome wasn’t carved in stone yet. And if it is either the Potter brat or Tom who was to ultimately be destroyed, Tom was going to make damned sure that it will be the Potter brat. But it looks like there isn’t a whole lot of chance of securing true immortality until that complication is out of the way. Particularly not now that he knows he has lost the Diary revenant.

We still don’t know just what the long-range plans for that Diary were. We probably never will. I’m not altogether convinced he ever had any.

Well, deathlessness will just have to do. Despite the delay.


Meanwhile, he had a network to rebuild and an agenda to get back on track. The chief priority at the beginning was to reestablish his own organization. Then it was to spread his influence. And to get the old meddler out of the picture. Then settle the Potter brat, and/or then to destabilize and to destroy any lingering trust in the legitimate government. Those last two can be run concurrently. In the meantime it’s enough to just keep the pot well-stirred. Which he did all through the course of HBP.

If the entire British wizarding world consists of no more than 3,000 people as Rowling claims, even if Riddle’s total followers at all levels; human, Giant, werewolf and all; number no more than a couple hundred, the odds were excellent of his being able to produce a state of emergency and paranoia which would pitch the whole into an unworkable mess and make the Ministry of Magic and the Wizengamot which oversees it vulnerable to collapse. That was the case from the point he came out of that stone cauldron. The whole issue could have been a lot more plausibly handled, but the outcome was always fairly certain.

Even if he really had intended to rule the world, and I’m not convinced he did, only that it was a claim worth making and he had to do something with his time, he would have, as usual, amused himself by making plans.

Byzantine, unnecessarily complex, and unreasonable plans. Plans that never had a hope of coming off. But they would have been fun to play with, and given him something to work towards.

Eternity is a long time, you know. You need a hobby.

Once he had Britain and Ireland properly cowed, he might have had vague intentions of using this enlarged power base to carry his apparent agenda to Europe. He would have been overreaching himself, but supposing for the minute that he was better at long-range plans than he ever gave us any indications of being, let’s follow this train of thought a bit farther down the track as to what he may have been daydreaming about:

Internally, various pogroms would continue to whittle away resistance and keep the rest of the population of the UK and Ireland demoralized. Many of the small-fry would escape the country. This will not matter. The worldwide population of wizards is thinly spread. He will catch up to them in good time. He has time. He may not be truly immortal and invulnerable to Time yet, but he does seem to have attained a satisfactory degree of deathlessness.

Still, true immortality may be the next item on his to-do list. Right after taking over wizarding Britain, killing Harry Potter, and before expanding his reach farther.

He may not officially overturn the Act of Seclusion and fully unleash the dogs until he has the European Ministries completely demoralized as well. But his actions, and those of his followers, will not exactly be conducted in secret behind the lines. After all, his rhetoric is all geared to wizards one day ruling Muggles. By that time the Muggles will have a considerable degree of awareness that something is attacking them and they will be itching to come to grips with the “enemy”. In the meantime they will be doing a nice job of pointing fingers and making trouble for each other. As long as any of their governments are functioning and hostile to one another, they certainly won’t be looking over their shoulders for wizards. Yet.

Riddle anticipates that his European campaign will be assisted by sympathizers on the Continent, and there may be areas with a large enough number of such sympathizers for him to leave them to it, so long as they accept his direction in certain key issues and events.

From Europe he no doubt intended to spread his campaign to the Middle East, and North Africa, with various smaller campaigns in sub-Saharan Africa. Particularly in those post-Colonial areas with a large European component to their society. From there he will move on to Asia, Australia and the Americas.

He probably anticipated that he would also be required to fend off various enemy campaigns, launched from the Americas and from Australia spearheaded by British expatriates who fled his regime in the UK, Eire, and Europe. But the thinness of wizarding population will tend to make these long-distance attempts a sufficient strain for their organizers for them to be able to be beaten off without major losses. And with any luck, by that time the Muggles should have gotten into the act and be targeting anything that looks like a wizard and asking questions later.

His total destruction of the wizarding “world” will probably take at another 100-200 years at least. But, by then, he’ll have the time.

Only by throwing themselves upon his mercy will any of the remaining magical peoples be given any protection from the fully aroused Muggles. When he has these remnants of the wizarding world totally under his control, any conflicts between factions will be subtly encouraged, and the general pogroms will continue until only those who support him totally will remain.

He will keep those around for as long as he finds them amusing.

And then he will hand them all, wizard and Muggle, over to his real allies.

The Dementors.

Mission accomplished.