Voldemort has quite a unique look and the wizarding world knew to fear him - much like Harry, everyone knew his name.

However, he worked quite stealthily almost until the end of the last book.

Obviously Dumbledore, Death Eaters, the Minister and Order of the Phoenix members would have known exactly what he looked like, but he hardly did publicity shoots. Add to this, his appearance changes quite frequently from handsome young man to snake-faced mystery man with his appearance presumably worsening with each new Horcrux created.

Would your average witch or wizard have recognised him should he come knocking?

  • 6
    Walt the Wizard: "Oh hei, it that Vol----" Voldemort: "Avada Kedavra!" Walt (now a ghost): "I guess it was..."
    – Skooba
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 14:17
  • 15
    "Wait, are you Voldemort?" "Count the noses." "Oh ... oh yeah."
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 14:22
  • 3
    I wouldn't say his appearance changes frequently. It changed once, gradually over a long period of time. Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 16:21
  • 4
    @leftaroundabout "The first Horcrux was the worst. The second Horcrux, that was the worst too. The third Horcrux, that was really bad. After that I went into a bit of a decline... But it's the Death Eaters that really get me down. The best conversation I had was over forty years ago, and that was with a Basilisk."
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 22:28
  • 6
    Knock knock. “Who’s there?” You know. “You know who?” That’s right - Avada Kedavra!
    – Obsidia
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 1:24

3 Answers 3


Initially, no

Tom Riddle was a promising student, but most people would not have met him. I don't recall any particular achievements of his that would have led to his face being featured in, for example, the Daily Prophet.

He took a low-key job at Borgin and Burkes, and was hardly ever in the spotlight.

I know that several teachers, Professor Slughorn amongst them, suggested that he join the Ministry of Magic, offered to set up appointments, put him in touch with useful contacts. He refused all offers. The next thing the staff knew, Voldemort was working at Borgin and Burkes.”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Once he had become a "snake-faced mystery man," yes

Of course, most people had would not have seen Voldemort personally. But, as you mention, Dumbledore, the Order, and the Ministry (via Aurors) would all have seen him in combat. I see no reason that they would not have disseminated information about his appearance throughout the magical community.

Moreover, some of the Order members knew what he looked like. Surely they would have informed their family and friends? And we know how rumor spreads.... The same goes for Harry, but even more so.

In any case, people would assume that it was Voldemort if a snake-faced man showed up at their door. Snakes are heavily associated with Dark Magic, and certainly at this point everyone is aware that the premier Dark Wizard is Lord Voldemort. So in that sense alone, they would recognize him, since they would instantly know it was he.

We also have some evidence from the books:

Both Williamson and Fudge recognized Voldemort when he appeared in the Ministry:

"He was there!" shouted a scarlet-robed man with a ponytail, who was pointing at a pile of golden rubble on the other side of the hall, where Bellatrix had lain trapped only moments before. "I saw him, Mr Fudge, I swear it was You-Know-Who, he grabbed a woman and Disapparated!"

"I know, Williamson, I know, I saw him too!" gibbered Fudge, who was wearing pyjamas under his pinstriped cloak and was gasping as though he had just run miles.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Of course, Williamson is an Auror and Fudge is his boss.

But even Grindelwald, who had been locked in a cell in his own prison for five decades, recognized Voldemort immediately:

The emaciated figure stirred beneath its thin blanket and rolled over toward him, eyes opening in a skull of a face. . . . The frail man sat up, great sunken eyes fixed upon him, upon Voldemort, and then he smiled. Most of his teeth were gone. . . .

“So, you have come. I thought you would . . . one day. But your journey was pointless. I never had it.”

“You lie!”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

And of course, as Sphoorthy Nutulapati mentioned, there was a woman in mainland Europe who also seemed to recognize him:

“Gregorovitch?” said a high, cold voice.

She shook her head: She was trying to close the door. A white hand held it steady, prevented her shutting him out. . . .

“I want Gregorovitch.”

“Er wohnt hier nicht mehr!” she cried, shaking her head. “He no live here! He no live here! I know him not!”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Finally, Remus Lupin appeared to expect students to recognize Voldemort on sight (and to be more afraid of him than of giant spiders or banshees):

"Well," said Lupin, frowning slightly, "I assumed that if the boggart faced you, it would assume the shape of Lord Voldemort."

Harry stared. Not only was this the last answer he'd expected, but Lupin had said Voldemort's name. The only person Harry had ever heard say the name aloud (apart from himself) was Professor Dumbledore.

"Clearly, I was wrong," said Lupin, still frowning at Harry. "But I didn't think it a good idea for Lord Voldemort to materialize in the staffroom. I imagined that people would panic."

  • Well thought out. You're saying they would know it was him, but it's unlikely they'd have seen a photo or similar?
    – ThruGog
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 18:08
  • 1
    Exactly. Maybe there would have been a sketch, though. I doubt it, given how afraid people are to even say his name.
    – Adamant
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 18:08
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    I assume it is to the Ministry's benefit (early on especially) to circulate his appearance. So little government pamphlets saying "The Dark Lord is a dangerous dark wizard who now looks like a human snake."
    – ThruGog
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 18:21
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    @ThruGog They probably wouldn't call him that, though—as Harry argues with Snape, only his followers ever called him The Dark Lord. ;-) (I'm also wondering now if a Colin Creevey-type of character ever managed to get a snapshot of Voldemort after his changes…) Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 0:22
  • @Jonah - People might think I can't accept an answer, but you said yourself about Fudge and the Auror, I think Grindelwald knew who he was because he approached him at that time in his castle prison, not because he recognised him, and I'm not sure the woman definitely recognised him. He's scary looking and prevented her closing the door before she started screaming. (I have +1'd though).
    – ThruGog
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 21:10

In Deathly Hallows, when Voldemort is searching for Grindelwald, he meets a woman (probably Central European from her accent) who opens the door for him. The instant she sees him, she starts freaking out. She keeps saying that she doesn't know who the person Voldy is searching for.

Two inferences. Either she knew Lord Voldemort and could recognize him by sight (Rumours, newspapers,propaganda by the Order etc.) or she was really freaked out by his nasal impairment.

Option one seems much more serious and keeping in tone with Rowling's style of writing at that point of time. Dark. Brooding.

So, yeah. It's highly probable that people knew Lord Voldemort, maybe not by sight but knew enough to recognize him.

Although, on Potterwatch, it's mentioned that numerous sightings of Voldy are reported. This kinda indicates that people are not a 100% sure about what You-Know-Who looks like.

EDIT: Includes two references from the Seventh Book.

In the chapter Magic is Might, when the three of our protagonists are arguing about who gets to go the Ministry to steal the locket, Harry laughingly mentions Voldy's name which immediately causes his scar to hurt. Once he escapes to the bathroom, he has a vision of Voldy. I quote it below in bold. Notice the phrases in italics

He was gliding along a twilit street. The buildings on either side of him had high, timbered gables; they looked like gingerbread houses.
He approached one of them, then saw the whiteness of his own long-fingered hand against the door. He knocked. He felt a mounting excitement. …
The door opened: A laughing woman stood there. Her face fell as she looked into Harry’s face: humor gone, terror replacing it. …
“Gregorovitch?” said a high, cold voice.
She shook her head: She was trying to close the door. A white hand held it steady, prevented her shutting him out. …
“I want Gregorovitch.”
“Er wohnt hier nicht mehr!” she cried, shaking her head. “He no live here! He no live here! I know him not!”
Abandoning the attempt to close the door, she began to back away down the dark hall, and Harry followed, gliding toward her, and his long-fingered hand had drawn his wand.
“Where is he?”
“Das weiß ich nicht! He move! I know not, I know not!”
He raised the wand. She screamed. Two young children came running into the hall. She tried to shield them with her arms. There was a flash of green light —

This is a German speaking woman, apparently in an isolated village (gingerbread houses, plus Harry's constant glimpses and feelings of mountainous regions in his visions) who instantly gets scared looking at Voldy. She probably lives OUTSIDE England. She also behaves like his previous victims vis-á-vis Lily Potter, who kinda tries shutting the door against an armed wizard (I know, armed right? Sounds wrong. Wanded maybe). So, she probably might have known what to expect when a tall, pale British sounding guy with slits for nostrils comes knocking.

The following is an excerpt from the chapter The Deathly Hallows where Fred talks about Voldy's sightings on Potterwatch.

“Yes, River, I can,” said Fred. “As our listeners will know, unless they’ve taken refuge at the bottom of a garden pond or somewhere similar, You-Know-Who’s strategy of remaining in the shadows is creating a nice little climate of panic. Mind you, if all the alleged sightings of him are genuine, we must have a good nineteen You-Know-Whos running around the place.”

Again, we see the apparent confusion of people mistaking someone or something else for Voldy.

So, it is safe to say that many knew Voldy by sight. Not everyone though.

  • Could you find a quote? I wasn’t sure if this was a great question, but it would seem there is quite a lack of concrete evidence!
    – ThruGog
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 13:30
  • A quote for what @ThruGog? Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 13:34
  • Perhaps the character's precise reaction to seeing him as evidence that she did/didn't recognise him? Maybe we could infer more from that?
    – ThruGog
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 15:48
  • Please read my edited answer @ThruGog, might help shed some light. Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 15:13
  • 1
    You already had my +1 and I like your answer. I think all of the quotes in all of the answers are useful and add to a bigger picture.
    – ThruGog
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 22:16

Would your average witch or wizard have recognised him should he come knocking?

Maybe not

People might have recognized Tom Riddle, mostly people who have studied along with him at Hogwarts. In addition, Tom Riddle was never known to be an extrovert outside of Hogwarts.

However, people might recognize Voldemort as the Dark Lord, from the stories or the tales; rather than actual portraits. So, people might not recognize the Dark Lord if he comes knocking.

And, a funny(maybe not) but important point to notice is that most of the conversations with Voldemort in the wizarding world, have ended up like this, as Skooba's comment rightly puts:

Walt the Wizard: "Oh hei, it that Vol----" Voldemort: "Avada Kedavra!"
Walt (now a ghost): "I guess it was..."

  • Yes, a good argument from the other side. And sometimes I need reminding of this, but he was pretty stealthy most of the time.
    – ThruGog
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 6:49

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