The Repeating History of Dumbledore

When we first meet young Tom Riddle in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I believe J.K. Rowling is wording descriptions of events with it in mind for us to see similarities between Tom Riddle and Harry. They’re both orphans, both gifted wizards, they can speak Parseltongue. But now that we know the end of the story, and now that we know more about Dumbledore himself, courtesy of announcements made by J.K, I have lately been thinking more about similarities between Tom Riddle and Gellert Grindelwald.
We know, by J.K.’s own admission, that Dumbledore was, at least at first, attracted to Grindelwald sexually. Not that I necessarily believe anything physical ever happened between them, but I think sexual attraction is always a component of our human relationships. Take, for example, a happily-married business man who hires a beautiful woman as his secretary. Nothing need ever happen between them for us to admit that sexual attraction was a component of why the business man likes having the pretty girl around.
The genius wizard Dumbledore, having won countless awards, meets an equal in Grindelwald. As Rita Skeeter says in The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore:
Educated at Durmstrang, a school famous even then for its unfortunate tolerance of the dark arts, Grindelwald showed himself quite as precociously brilliant as Dumbledore. (DH pg 356/290)
Much later in the book, Aberforth says the same thing:
“At last, my brother had an equal to talk to, someone just as bright as he was.” (DH pg 566/456)
That, in and of itself, could have proven “attractive” to Dumbledore, as it might to anyone. On top of that, they were similar in age, Bathilda Bagshot is quoted by Rita Skeeter as saying:
“He seemed a charming boy to me,” babbles Bathilda, “whatever he later became. Naturally, I introduced him to poor Albus, who was missing the company of lads his own age. The boys took to each other at once.” (DH pg 356/291)
And I’m sure it didn’t hurt that Gellert was a good-looking young man. Harry himself notes this:
He rifled through the pages, looking for photographs. He came across the one he sought almost at once, the young Dumbledore and his handsome companion, roaring with laughter at some long forgotten joke. Harry dropped his eyes to the caption. Albus Dumbledore, shortly after his mother’s
, with his friend Gellert Grindelwald. (DH pg 352/288)
In his own letter to Gellert, Albus seems to already be questioning Gellert’s plans for dominance of the muggles. Instead of trying to talk him out of the plan, which Dumbledore must have known would end their friendship, Dumbledore instead tries to find reason with the plan, and at the same time, tries to minimize Gellert’s violent tendencies:
Your point about wizard dominance being FOR THE MUGGLE’S OWN GOOD – this, I think, is the crucial point. Yes, we have been given power and, yes, that power gives us the right to rule, but it also gives us responsibilities over the ruled. We must stress this point, it
be the foundation stone upon which we build. Where we are opposed, as we surely
be, this must be basis for our counter-arguments. We seize control FOR THE GREATER GOOD. And from this it follows that where we meet resistance, we must only use the force that is necessary and no more. (This was your mistake at Durmstrang!) (DH pg 357/291)
In this letter, which infuriates Harry because all he can see is Dumbledore plotting with Grindelwald, Dumbledore is actually trying to change Grindelwald from the impulsive wizard that was expelled from Durmstrang into seeing a bigger picture for the good of all, and not to use any more force than they must. We know that it’s common for people in relationships to try and change people, to mold people they like into what they need in a relationship. Dumbledore liked his relationship with his “best friend” and tried to change Grindelwald into someone who wouldn’t do so many bad things.
As anyone who has tried this
know, you can’t change people, and Dumbledore obviously didn’t change Grindelwald, who eventually went so bad that Rita Skeeter says of him, “in a list of Most Dangerous Dark Wizards of All Time, he would miss out on the top spot only because You-Know-Who arrived, a generation later, to steal his crown.”
Dumbledore left Grindelwald behind and turned his energies to the betterment of wizard-kind and muggles alike, so you’d think he’d learn from his mistakes.
But did he?
“A generation later,” as Rita put it, but actually from our perspective, in the previous book, Half-Blood Prince, we see Dumbledore meeting the young Tom Riddle, and our very first impression of him is his good looks:

“A boy was sitting on top of the grey blankets, his legs stretched out in front of him, holding a book. There was no trace of the Gaunts in Tom Riddle’s face. Merope had her
wish: he was his handsome father in miniature, tall for eleven years old, dark-haired and pale.” (HBP pg 269/252)
Dumbledore must have known, or suspected before this meeting, that Tom was already using his powers for bad reasons. Unlike Harry, who before he knew he was a wizard, used his powers only defensively, like when he jumped up on the roof of the school to avoid the kids who were picking on him, the orphanage’s Matron tells Dumbledore:
“He scares the other children.” “You mean he’s a bully?” asked Dumbledore. “I think he must be,” said Mrs. Cole, frowning slightly, “but it’s very hard to catch him at it. There have been incidents… nasty things…” (HBP pg 267/250)
Even at this first meeting, it is clear Dumbeldore knew of Tom’s negative inclinations, and believed he could control them. In his orphanage bedroom, Dumbledore tells Tom:
“At Hogwarts,” Dumbledore went on, “we teach you not only to use magic, but to control it … Hogwarts can expel students, and the Ministry of Magic
punish law breakers still more severely. All new wizards must accept that, in entering our world, they abide by our laws.” (HBP pg 273/256)
Is Dumbledore making the same mistake with Tom Riddle that he made with Gellert Grindelwald, for the same reasons? Like Grindelwald, Tom is a talented wizard. Like Grindelwald, Tom is a “bad boy”. And, like Grindelwald, Tom is a handsome boy.
And like Grindelwald, Tom Riddle grows up to be the most feared wizard of his time.
Does Dumbledore’s attraction to Tom’s looks and power make Dumbledore relive the past? Was Dumbledore longing for something he cherished but lost so long ago with Gellert?
More importantly, is Dumbledore responsible for the terribleness that Tom became, because he ignored his mistakes of the past and was
ing to think that Tom could be changed for the better?
What would the world have been like if Dumbledore had not met Grindelwald as a boy? Would he have been able to not wait so long before their final confrontation? And what would the world have been like had not Dumbledore sponsored Tom Riddle at Hogwarts? Could Voldemort have become as powerful as he did had he not gained influence as model student and head boy at Hogwarts?

12 thoughts on “The Repeating History of Dumbledore”

  1. well i simply think that dumbledore liked Grindlewald and for instance, voldemort, is because of his perception of seeing good in people. always good. in half blood prince, in second chapter, snape told bellatrix that how he was able to get in dumbledore’s goodbooks by telling a story of greatest remorse and dumbledore welcomes him with open arms. he also says that dumbledore likes the best of every person. so i think dumbledore was simply attracted to both dark waizards because of their abilities and brilliance.

  2. Again, a great article with new points of view… I have never seen the similarities you point out in the relationships Dumbledore – Grindelwald and Dumbledore – Riddle. I think it shows us that Dumbledore deeply believes in the good nature of men (wizards), for he tries to change and educate rather than give up hope from the start. Maybe Dumbledore helped Voldemort to power by giving him access to education and useful networks, but he also gave him a chance. It corresponds with what he once told Harry (something like “not our abilities matter, but what we use them for”). Tom Riddle was given a chance, but he himself chose the way.

  3. I think Dumbledore made the same mistake with Voldemort as he did with Grindlewald but he did it because he believed in people, that they could change and he believed in the best in every people, it was not, in my opinion, because he was attracted to them. I think we are just exaggerating it.

  4. i don’t believe that dumbledore made the same mistakes with riddle as he did with grindlewald. the reasons for this are things that dumbledore and riddle say to harry. 1) in HBP dumbledore tells harry that riddle never tried to charm like he did the other teachers so dumbledore wouldn’t be able to get close to riddle as he did with grindlewald 2) riddle himself says in CoS that dumbledore never seemed to like or trust him as much as the other teachers did both of these statements i believe show a very distanced relationship between riddle and dumbledore (similar to snape and harry, although very different in many ways) i believe that even if dumbledore would have wanted to change riddle he would have found it extremely difficult because of riddle’s apparent caution around him.

  5. Great article Dave! A Man sees what he wants to see, so did harry and so did we when we were first reading that letter from Dumbledore to Grindelwald as you rightly said “plotting things” but you have brought them in a new light and that really seems the case. It is exacly the case of being modest in critisizing our loved ones action when we try to change their behaviour. Dumbledore in no way responsible for terribleness of Riddle. He believed in giving choices and well, Tom Riddle was given the choice and he used it badly, what’s dumbledore’s fault in this? And has not ‘our’ experience with time traveling had taught us any thing? You can not predict the future. Results of man’s action are so complex that is very difficult to say what happen. Dumbledore did a routine thing I guess when he sponsored Riddle (why else a fund’ll be there just for Riddle?) It was lucky that dumbledore went to see Riddle, otherwise he would never had got those rare insights into Riddle’s mind (Tom riddle was regretful of revealing about himself to Dumbledore in his first meeting. Could Dumbledore (or Dippet, as he was the then headmaster) deny entry to Riddle to Hogwarts just because he was bullish or was a parcelmouth? Dumbledore was not attracted to Riddle as he has learnt from his past mistake (which is a great thing, many can’t do it). He was just being watchful of him because he must have seen a shadow of Grindelwald in Riddlem otherwise why was he keeping tracking his movements, and surely it proved to be for greater good later.

  6. I dont know why, but since the time JKR has announced abt Dumbledore, everyone is analysing his each and every activity, everything he said in a negative way.

  7. It seems to me that Hogwarts and the wizarding world are on the honor system. How much control did the teachers exert over any student? The students who were inclined to follow the rules did so, and the others received detentions. There was plenty of misbehavior, rule-breaking and sneaking around by Harry, Draco, Riddle, Hagrid (as a student) and others with little consequence. The only student we know of who got expelled was Hagrid, thanks to Riddle. And as for the Ministry’s authority, Voldemort took care of that by infiltrating it with Eaters. Rather than scaring Riddle, I think Dumbledore unwittingly gave him the clues he used to undermine “the controls” other wizards accept as part of civilised society, when they spoke in the orphanage. Once again, Dumbledore saw the best in everyone, including Riddle, and even though he had his suspicions, he was blinded by his own goodness, his trust in others. I can’t believe there was a sexual attraction on the part of Dumbledore toward Riddle, an 11 year old boy. That is just disturbing. Dave, I disagree that sexual attraction is part of all our human relationships. I would never let my children out of my sight, at school, at birthday parties or anywhere, if I accepted your assumption that a trusted headmaster of advanced age might “take an interest” in my 11 year old son. Yes, I know it happens, tragically, but it is deviant, not accepted. And I wonder if that secretary in your example knew she would interview as a woman, and yet become a girl once she had the job?

  8. No, Dave, it IS well possible to find someone attractive and handsome without having the remotest sexual interest in that person. I think you are going too far here, assuming that just because Dumbledore is he has to be attracted to every male he encounters! Yes, there are certain similarities between Grindelwald and Riddle, but these probably have put Dumbledore even more on the lookout. Harry too noticed that Tom Riddle was a handsome person in HBP when he and Dumbledore watch Hokey’s memory through the pensieve, and Harry is definately not ! Again: noticing a person’s looks is just that: noticing a person’s looks! Dumbledore is a wise, experienced and professional teacher, and, as pointed out before, he was concerned about the kind of behaviour Riddle showed in the orphanage and watched him ever since. He also wanted to give Riddle his chance,something every teacher would have done as Riddle was only eleven! I was really happy when Rowling pronounced Dumbledore but I can now see what this really (and most unfortunately) did: it causes people to see all his actions from a sexual point of view, which is an insult to Dumbledore’s professionalism!

  9. Patty and Siena: You are confusing thoughts with actions. I’m sure both of you see people of the opposite sex on the street and think they are attractive. You do it with people you see on TV and in the movies all the time. You pay to watch specific movies because they include people who especially are attractive to you. That’s all I’m talking about. It doesn’t have anything to do with acting on it in any way. We make friends with someone for many reasons, after you get to know them, you find out what you have in common, etc. But upon first look, a physical attraction can be the spark that gets you together, then you become friends on the other levels later. And that’s all I’m saying with Dumbledore and Grindelwald. We know Dumbledore was and we know Grindelwald was a good looking boy. An initial physical attraction draws Dumbledore to Grindelwald, then they meet on other levels (same age, magical brilliance…) The point of the article was that he could have felt the same thing for Tom Riddle. An attraction. Nothing more. Initial physical attraction for people is a fact of life. That’s what I was talking about in the article, not one person wanting to physically have sexual contact with another.

  10. I don’t see why the writer of this article finds it hard to believe that Dumbledore HAD sexual relations with Grindlewald. It is widely known that Grindlewald like Dumbledore, had NO close/sexual female relationships. What would be wrong or hard for two men (with no known female relations) to hook up and engage in relations? Come On people. Rita Skeeter told us that Bathilda Bagshot thought “the two boys immediately took a liking to each other.” This was mutual attraction on both sides, unlike the writer of this article who seems to think that this attraction was on Dumbledore’s part only. If the “attraction” was only on Dumbledore’s part, Why in the world was Grindlewald “afraid” of Dumbledore? I know some p’ple might say it’s because of the whole Ariana/Aberforth issue but I think not. Grindlewald had already proved that ing people’s relatives does NOT make him “fear” their loved-ones’ vengeancy. Grindlewald was only afraid of Dumbledore out of the many people whose loved ones he ed or hurt because he once loved him. Grindlewald was never in my mind to turn out like Tom Riddle because unlike Tom, Grindlewald was capable of loving. That is why he felt remorse for what he had done alone in his cell in Numengard. My conclusion is that Grindlewald and Dumbledore were boyfriends and apart from discussions all day, they engaged in sexual activities together. Their refusal to talk or comment about each other after their separation is a sign of how much secretive things were between them. We all know Dumbledore is secretive but what reason does Grindlewald have to be secretive about his encounter with young Dumbledore? Grindlewald even boosted about his acquisition of a power wand! The families of his victims were never in his mind. If not for a one time LOVE, why would he be afraid of a relative (Dumbledore) of his victim (Ariana)? People are acting like Dumbledore had no sexual desires. Like somehow he was not human/wizard. There is a fine distinction between a God and a Wizard. Let us not cross him over to a God-like figure. Yes, he was capable of sexual activities with people/men just as he was capable of loving them. I remember him telling Harry that he was no different from other people.

  11. “Dumbledore did a routine thing I guess when he sponsored Riddle (why else a fund’ll be there just for Riddle?)” My understanding was that there was actually a fund for children like Tom. Orphans from a muggle background who otherwise would never have understood their magical power properly and who might otherwise have become a danger to themselves and others through the uncontrolled and unknowing use of magic. It would put the Secrecy Act in danger of being breached. (Of course Voldemort’s solution to this was simply to shove them in Azkaban!) Dumbledore in going to Tom was probably acting under instructions from the school. Voldemort’s entire characterisation come across as psychopathic. In the clinical sense. So many of the pointers are there in the young Tom Riddle. The subtle bullying, the ing of a pet rabbit, his vision of himself as “special” and set apart from the rest of the herd. Somehow above them and exempt from the rules. He saw people as there to be used and had no use for love unless he could twist it to his own agenda. His obsession with power and control is typical too. Also psychopaths are very, very good at playing a part, disguising their true natures and manipulating those around them. Riddle did all this with his teachers at Hogwarts. Only Dumbledore who had seen a glimpse of the truth remained suspicious. Given all this I very much doubt that anyone had the least chance of turning Riddle from his path. But we have to remember that a diagnosis like that is terribly easy with 20/20 hindsight. No one could have predicted what Riddle would become.

  12. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If J.K. didn’t put it in the book, we can’t cite it. As such, I think any speculation as to Dumbledore’s relationship status with Grindewald as being anything other than what J.K. directly tells us (in the books, not extracurricular interviews) can’t be the basis for a sound argument. The series is over and unless Jo publishes second editions, anything she says about characters or events are irrelivant. I frankly find it irresponsible of her to spend the time she does crafting fine stories only to start throwing more information out just too keep herself in the spot light and not surrender the world of Harry Potter — It belongs to the fans and time now; when future generations read these stories, they have the text and the text only to depend upon for interpretation, which is as it should be. That being said, Dave, some thought provoking issues. However, we can play the ‘what if’ game all day (and be pretty entertained by the process as well). Dumbledore always said that people are alone accountable for their actions and that prophocies and fate and foreshadowing only come to fruition as people make choices, i.e. the prophacy, so I don’t believe that we can dish all of that responsibilty on to Dumbledore, if we do (and I know I do) believe that we are masters of our own destany.

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