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Dumbledore's History With Voldemort Explained

While the relationship between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort is the crux of the entire series of books and films, the history between former Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore and the dark wizard is equally fascinating. Though Voldemort vehemently boasted of his immortal power and refused to admit any fear, Dumbledore was the one wizard he was scared of.

In the "Harry Potter" books and films, Voldemort and Dumbledore first meet when the former was 11 years old, in an orphanage, and went by his birth name of Tom Riddle. As a result of his cruel and loveless childhood, Tom was prone to manipulative cruelty and violence even as his magical powers and narcissism grew. However, even as Tom evolved into Voldemort and became the most powerful dark wizard in history, Dumbledore still out-mastered him in both magical abilities and in the one thing Voldemort never possessed: love.

In a similar relationship to Dumbledore's and Gellert Grindelwald's, the one between Voldemort and Dumbledore goes back decades and is rooted in a quest for power and immortality. In parallels to Dumbledore's defeat of Grindelwald after the dark wizard tries to take over the world, Dumbledore is also a key part of both of Voldemort's defeats, including his final true death at the hands of Harry Potter.

From Horcruxes and Deathly Hallows to Hogwarts lessons and the love of Severus Snape, here's the full history of Dumbledore's relationship with Voldemort.

Meeting Tom Riddle

Tom Riddle is 11 years old and Albus Dumbledore is already a wizened old wizard and Hogwarts professor when they first meet one another. Tom lives at an orphanage run by Mrs. Cole, who informs Dumbledore of the boy's history and his penchant for cruel and bullying behavior with the other children. 

The orphanage guardian tells Dumbledore that Tom's mother, Merope Riddle, died shortly after giving birth to Tom when she stumbled into the orphanage. In the books, Merope tells Mrs. Cole to name the boy Tom Marvolo Riddle after his father and his grandfather. Mrs. Cole also points out several dark incidents involving Tom: a boy's rabbit was found hanging after he and Tom argued, and two other children were traumatized into silence after venturing inside a cave with Tom during a seaside field trip.

When Dumbledore meets Tom in his room, the Hogwarts professor informs the boy of his magical abilities and extends an invitation for him to study as a wizard at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Though impressed by Tom's abilities at such a young age, Dumbledore is also equally disturbed by the boy after Tom tells him about hurting other people who displeased or annoyed him and his ability to talk to snakes (later defined as Parseltongue). Still, Tom goes on to attend Hogwarts with Dumbledore watching over him.


During his years at Hogwarts (1938-1945), Tom Riddle grows in power exponentially, honing his intelligence and manipulation skills to bend almost every other classmate and professor to his will. The only person who sees through his façade to his true character is Albus Dumbledore, who is the transfiguration professor at the time.

Tom is sorted into Slytherin House at Hogwarts, which further ties him to the ancestor he would eventually learn more about, Salazar Slytherin. The future dark wizard also amasses a gang of cruel cronies from Slytherin — they are called his "friends" but, in reality, these future Death Eaters were just higher-ranking servants of Tom.

Also while a student at Hogwarts, Tom orchestrates three key events that have a domino effect on him and the wizarding world at large. He opens the Chamber of Secrets, orchestrates the murders of his Muggle father and his family, and begins his education on Horcruxes. The first two events stem from Tom's obsession with his heritage and his goal of proving just how unique, powerful, and "special" he is. While the revelation that he is the heir of Slytherin and can tame the Basilisk within the Chamber of Secrets boosts his ego, Tom learning of his Muggle father fuels his rage and pushes him to murder Tom Riddle Sr. and his paternal grandparents.

Defense Against the Dark Arts

After graduating Hogwarts, Tom Riddle twice requests to return to the school to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. The first time is immediately after graduation when he asks then-Headmaster Armando Dippet, who refuses because of the teen's age and tells him to come back in a few years and ask again. 

The second time is at least a decade later when Tom has more fully transformed physically and mentally into Lord Voldemort by diving deep into the Dark Arts and murdering people to create his Horcruxes. This time, Albus Dumbledore is the headmaster of Hogwarts but still refuses Tom the position. Dumbledore also confronts Voldemort about his true intentions for returning to the school, suspecting that the dark wizard wants to amass more followers for his army. The short conversation and denial of the post seal the resentment Voldemort feels toward Dumbledore — the one person who refuses to be charmed and disillusioned by the young man.

Voldemort's visit to Hogwarts ends with him "cursing" the Defense Against the Dark Arts position (the school wasn't able to keep a teacher in the spot for more than a year) and successfully hiding Rowena Ravenclaw's diadem in the Room of Requirement, which Voldemort has turned into a Horcrux.

Love, resentment and magic

Lord Voldemort may have been the most powerful dark wizard in history, but to Albus Dumbledore, he would always be the neglected Tom Riddle who lashed out with anger and cruelty because of a childhood lacking love.

In the first decades of their relationship, Dumbledore repeatedly tries to convince Voldemort of the irrefutable power of love and kindness. As someone who had never known love, Voldemort scoffs at Dumbledore and sees the traits of love, kindness, and mercy as weaknesses. However, at nearly every battle and key moment in both the First Wizarding War and the Second Wizarding War, Voldemort is brought down by love – starting with his first defeat in Godric's Hollow when Lily Potter sacrifices herself to save her son, Harry.

While Voldemort does amass a large number of followers after the years after leaving Hogwarts (and some of them probably love him, in a way), the dark wizard is incapable of understanding emotions beyond obsession, narcissism, anger, and a hunger for more power. Voldemort would never be truly happy unless everyone fears him and bows to his will. Dumbledore's steadfast refusal to treat him as anything other than a former student — he still calls him Tom, after all — leads to an even deeper resentment towards the Hogwarts headmaster, the only other wizard in the world more powerful than Voldemort.

The fall of Lord Voldemort

The First Wizarding War takes place 25 years after the Global Wizarding War – this time with Lord Voldemort as the dark wizard at the helm but again with Albus Dumbledore leading the charge against evil.

After years of social conflict in the wizarding world, in 1970 Voldemort and his Death Eaters openly commit acts of terrorism around Great Britain. Building on the social unrest, Voldemort declares himself the Dark Lord and leads a campaign of violence and prejudice against all those who aren't pure-bloods. Despite the efforts put forth by the Ministry of Magic and the Dumbledore-founded Order of the Phoenix, Voldemort's power multiplies, and the wizarding world is plagued by constant terror.

At the war's climax, Dumbledore instructs Order members Lily and James Potter to go into hiding with their infant son. While the Potters are in hiding, Voldemort learns of a prophecy that foretells his death at the hands of a wizard born at the end of July. Thanks to his knowledge of the Order members and information gleaned from Severus Snape, Voldemort assumes the prophecy speaks of the newborn Harry Potter. When the Potters' longtime friend Peter Pettigrew betrays them, the Dark Lord travels there to kill Harry.

When Lily refuses to step aside and let Voldemort kill her son, he kills her. However, her sacrifice activates a powerful protective spell rooted in love, and Voldemort's killing curse rebounds and kills the Dark Lord. But with so many Horcruxes out there, it is only a matter of time before Voldemort returns.

Duel at the Ministry of Magic

It would take almost 15 years for Lord Voldemort to fully return, setting in motion an opportunity for him and Dumbledore to come face to face once again. That meeting includes an explosive and revealing duel at the Ministry of Magic when Voldemort attempts to murder both Harry Potter and his former teacher.

In the dark and towering Ministry atrium, the two most powerful wizards in existence duel for the upper hand, each demonstrating his incredible magical abilities. Though Voldemort attacks with all his power, Dumbledore retains the offensive and eventually sends Voldemort fleeing. However, Dumbledore is unable to rout him before Voldemort mentally tortures Harry by showing him and Dumbledore just how linked the Dark Lord truly is to the Boy Who Lived.

Later, Dumbledore learns that Voldemort likely knew of his inability to defeat his former teacher in battle, so he instructs Draco Malfoy to kill the Hogwarts headmaster. In the final book and film in the "Harry Potter" series, it's revealed that Dumbledore's love-rooted legacy and many machinations involving, in particular, Harry Potter and Severus Snape, were key to Voldemort's eventual final defeat.


During Tom Riddle's penultimate year at Hogwarts, he develops a fascination with immortality rooted in his fear of death. This fascination leads him to question Professor Slughorn about Horcruxes

Slughorn is charmed and fascinated by Tom, as he is with all of his exceptionally bright students. Though Slughorn tries to conceal the memory of him explaining Horcruxes to the young man who would become Lord Voldemort, the memory gleaned from the retired professor by Harry Potter shows the two talking about the means by which to create a Horcrux, creating more than one and splitting one's soul by murdering someone. Tom would create six Horcruxes using objects that symbolize power and prestige to Voldemort: his diary, Marvolo Gaunt's ring, Salazar Slytherin's locket, Helga Hufflepuff's cup, Rowena Ravenclaw's diadem, and his snake Nagini.

After learning from Slughorn's memory that Voldemort has created so many Horcruxes, Dumbledore and Harry set out to find and destroy them to defeat the dark wizard for good. Tom Riddle's diary is destroyed when Harry stabs it with a basilisk fang in the Chamber of Secrets. Dumbledore destroys the ring with Godric Gryffindor's sword, which Ron Weasley also uses to destroy Slytherin's locket. A basilisk fang is also used by Hermione Granger to destroy Hufflepuff's cup, and the Gryffindor sword is used by Neville Longbottom to slay Nagini. Finally, Malfoy lackey Vincent Crabbe destroys the Ravenclaw diadem using the "Fiendfyre" spell.

The Deathly Hallows

Lord Voldemort and Albus Dumbledore are also connected by their fascination with power over death. While Dumbledore, in his youth and alongside Grindelwald, obsesses over the Deathly Hallows to master death, Voldemort seeks to avoid death at all costs through immortality and absolute power.

With Voldemort's choice of Horcruxes over the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore believes the dark wizard doesn't care about his connection to the Peverell brothers or to the Resurrection Stone and Cloak of Invisibility. Instead, Dumbledore believes Voldemort continually seeks to gain immortality through his own power instead of through the abilities of others. While discussing the many similarities between Voldemort and Harry Potter, Dumbledore tells the young wizard that no matter how powerful Voldemort is or how many Horcruxes he made, he will never master death because he runs from it.

Voldemort does obsess over finding the Elder Wand, dubbed the most powerful wand in the world. The Dark Lord steadfastly believes that obtaining the Elder Wand will allow him to defeat anyone who crosses him. However, his lack of knowledge regarding the Deathly Hallows proves crucial to his downfall.

The grave and the Elder Wand

In a bruising failure, Voldemort is unable to kill either Dumbledore or Harry Potter during his duel with his former teacher at the Ministry of Magic in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Instead, he tasks Death-Eater-in-training Draco Malfoy to kill the Hogwarts headmaster.

Unbeknownst to Voldemort (and anyone else until the final book and movie), Dumbledore is dying of a curse from Marvolo Gaunt's ring and asks Severus Snape to end his life. In "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," Snape curses Dumbledore, who falls from the Astronomy Tower. After Dumbledore is lain to rest with the Elder Wand, which he won after defeating Grindelwald in a duel, Voldemort breaks into his tomb to steal the Elder Wand. 

However, Voldemort never masters the wand he's been searching for since he didn't defeat its former owner. At the end of the books and films, it's revealed that when Malfoy disarms Dumbledore in the Astronomy Tower, the Elder Wand becomes his. Later on, Harry Potter disarms Malfoy, becoming the final true master of the wand even as Voldemort tries to use it against him. It wasn't exactly part of Dumbledore's plan to end the Elder Wand's history, but it all worked out nonetheless.

Harry Potter and Severus Snape

One of the most heartbreaking reveals in the "Harry Potter" franchise is the true nature and intentions of Severus Snape. In the end, Snape's sacrifices and love for both Lily and Harry Potter are integral to Voldemort's defeat.

Though he becomes a Death Eater after Hogwarts, Snape defects and becomes a spy for Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix to protect Lily, whom he has loved unconditionally since childhood. Snape's request for Voldemort to spare Lily's life leads to the dark wizard's first demise because of Harry's mother's willing sacrifice. Despite his hatred of James Potter, Snape dedicates much of his life to protecting Harry from Voldemort to honor Lily. 

When Voldemort returns, Snape regains his trust as a Death Eater while still spying for Dumbledore and hiding his true intentions using Occlumency. Snape gives Voldemort just enough information over the years to keep that trust, but Voldemort has Nagini kill the Hogwarts professor anyway so that the Dark Lord can obtain the Elder Wand. Voldemort's mistake in spurning Harry's revelation that Snape was never the master of the Elder Wand eventually costs Voldemort his final life.

Like his relationship with Dumbledore and Harry, Voldemort and Snape share many similarities in personality and heritage. However, Snape's unrequited love for Lily and subsequent affection for Harry (even though he never really shows it) lead to his redemption and Voldemort's undoing.