According to the books, Dumbledore was one of the very first wizards to have met and talk to Tom Riddle as a child. Dumbledore discovered he was born an orphan with no family and friends. He was also a thief and he took pleasure in making others hurt.

Also, during Tom Riddle's time at Hogwarts, he never left during the vacations or the breaks, meaning he was at Hogwarts all the time. He also hated his family for abandoning him.

Also, he was an extraordinarily gifted wizard as a child who was very deceitful but it is said that Dumbledore saw right through this.

This is clearly a child on a dark path (even if he didn't turn into the dark lord) & Dumbledore suspected but took little interest in Tom apart from keeping a close eye on him & did not try to rehabilitate him when he was a child and clearly needing help and supervision. Even Harry was surprised how Dumbledore allowed him to go to Leaky Cauldron alone.

Is Dumbledore negligence partially to blame for the rise of the Dark Lord?

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    Dumbeldore's father attacked some muggles while D was in his first year in Hogwarts, so we can think that he wasn't really OK with his parents. But he became the best sorcerer of his generation. Maybe he thank that being in this school could lead TJ in the right way.
    – Saphirel
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 14:51
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    im not sure what dumbledore could have done, legally, to stop voldemort. Voldemort immediately had every other teacher at his whim and so even if Dumbledore said something was wrong with Tom the other teachers would not agree. He litteraly could just sit back and watch, hoping for a mistake that would allow him to take action, Voldemort never put a toe out of line at school so Dumbledore was forced to allow him to graduate and move on with life.
    – Himarm
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 14:59
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    To be fair, Dumbledore was probably the only one who saw Tom Riddle was on a dark path. He was Head Boy if I remember correctly, and he won a trophy for Special Services to the School. Dumbledore wasn't headmaster and everyone else in the community loved him. I don't think it was in Dumbledore's power to stop him. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 15:00
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    @BernardtheBear Harry allowed, dumbledore to do this, Tom could have simply refused, and as not being headmaster at the time, Dumbledore had no recourse.
    – Himarm
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 15:03
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    a powerful super intelligent wizard != a trained psychiatrist, Tom needs medication, and intensive therapy. a teacher spending time with you does not cure major mental illness.
    – Himarm
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 15:12

3 Answers 3


Tom Riddle is not simply a disturbed child, he is mentally Ill. His characteristics fit firmly into personality disorder known as psychopathy.

Psychopathy has often been considered untreatable.

Dumbledore simply had nothing he could do to. The assumption in this question is that Dumbledore could simply take Tom under his wing and "help" him change his ways.

The issue we have here is that Dumbledore is simply a teacher, with no legal rights over Tom, and beyond forced meetings in which he could not force Tom to actively participate in he had no recourse.

From day 1 in school Tom becomes a star pupil, never puting a foot out of line, and has all the teachers, including the headmaster raining down praise on him. Dumbledore as the only teacher actively suspect about Tom now has no effective means of further pursing medical help for Tom since litterally no other teacher would sign off on it. So Dumbledore is left to simple watch Tom.

‘Did I know that I had just met the most dangerous Dark wizard of all time?’ said Dumbledore. ‘No, I had no idea that he was to grow up to be what he is. However, I was certainly intrigued by him. I returned to Hogwarts intending to keep an eye upon him... he was already using magic against other people, to frighten, to punish, to control. The little stories of the strangled rabbit and the young boy and girl he lured into a cave were most suggestive ... I can make them hurt if I want to ...’

Dumbledore was suspicious of his student, but he had talked to Tom and Tom had promised to be "good" and he technicly honored is promise as far as Dumbledore knew during his school years, and on the surface appeared to be nothing more then a highly talented student.

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    You do know being a psychopath doesn't make you bad people and most psychopaths are not bad. About 1% of general population are psychopaths, but criminal or bad psychopaths are quite rare. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 16:18
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    @BernardtheBear A 2008 study using the PCL:SV found that 1.2% of a US sample scored 13 or more out of 24, indicating "potential psychopathy". The scores correlated significantly with violence, alcohol use, and lower intelligence. "in prison populations, where it is thought that an estimated 15–25% of prisoners qualify for the diagnosis"
    – Himarm
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 16:24
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    @BernardtheBear you literally have no idea what ways Dumbledore could help him, your fishing for the impossible here. there is no real treatment here, your thinking dumbledore just being freinds and "helping" voldemort will fix him, when from day 1 voldemort is already super intelligent, and will lie his ass off to any and everyone to hide how he truly feels.
    – Himarm
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 16:26
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    @BernardtheBear Psychopathy , is traditionally defined as a personality disorder[1] characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits. A psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. If he lies to you so he can steal your money, he won’t feel any moral qualms, though he may pretend to. He may observe others and then act the way they do so he’s not “found out,” Tompkins says. webmd.com/mental-health/features/…
    – Himarm
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 16:30
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    @BernardtheBear If you know that Dumbledore definitely could have help Tom, why did you ask the question?
    – Skooba
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 16:35

This is clearly a child on a dark path (even if he didn't turn into the dark lord) and Dumbledore suspected but took little interest in Tom apart from keeping a close eye on him and did not try to rehabilitate him when he was a child and clearly needing help and supervision.

Despite being a great wizard, Dumbledore is not a psychiatrist.

Moreover, he wasn't Headmaster nor Head of Slytherin at the time, so he didn't have the authority to invite Tom Riddle in his office and discuss about his mental illness and/or the risks of following the "dark path".

As far as we know, neither the Headmaster (Dippet) nor the Head of Slytherin (Slughorn?) suspected Tom of being evil.

This means that no Hogwarts professor could or wanted to punish/rehabilitate Tom.

What about other people? In the end, it comes down to:

  • St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries;

  • the Ministry of Magic.

There is no evidence that St. Mungo's deals with mentally ill wizards, unless said illness is somehow related to magical accidents.

In addition, the Ministry of Magic doesn't interfere with Hogwarts businesses unless a student commits a crime or violates the International Statute of Secrecy.

Since nobody suspected that Tom Riddle was behind serious crimes (the opening of the Chamber of Secrets, for example), and it was clear that Tom wasn't performing magic near Muggles during his years at Hogwarts (he spent the whole seven years at Hogwarts), there was no reason for the MoM to intervene, especially when no Hogwarts professor suspected anything.

  • I think Dumbledore learnt from earlier mistakes, and he hasn't always been the best "people" person. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 16:46
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    @BernardtheBear maybe, but still he couldn't have done anything. At the time, Dumbledore was to Tom what McGonagall was to Draco: Transfiguration teacher and Head of the "opposite" House. Do you think McGonagall (which, by the way, was also Deputy Headmistress) could have invited Draco in her office and told him, say, to not be attracted by his father's ideas, or to not call Hermione "Mudblood" outside of her classes? I don't think so.
    – A. Darwin
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 16:54
  • No she can't, he had a special relationship with Snape though and we know he tried to help him whenever although Malfoy tried to resist in the Halfblood prince, but I imagine malfoy could have turned out worse if not for the love of his mothers and others around him? Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 17:00
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    @BernardtheBear "he had a special relationship with Snape though and we know he tried to help him". Exactly, and Snape was Head of his House. The point is that professors who are not Headmaster or Head of Slytherin don't have the authority nor the "special relationship" you mentioned with Slytherins (same for the other Houses, obviously). Therefore, Dumbledore couldn't do anything.
    – A. Darwin
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 17:02
  • The Wizarding World apparently does have ways to deal with mental illness, namely the shock spell. Also, the first psychiatric hospital in the US was apparently created with the help of the magical community. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 17:15

I think that it's difficult to say that Dumbledore is to blame for Tom's upbringing. Yes, he could have done more to guide him on a better path, but potentially so could countless others.

Whilst Dumbledore may have been one of the only teachers/adults to see Tom's dark side, Slughorn definitely got at least a hint of it when Tom was being incredibly manipulative in getting information about Horcruxes from him. I don't see him as any more or less to blame.

I think what is more telling is that Dumbledore himself feels like he is partially at fault. Whenever he discusses Voldemort's childhood, he always refers to him as 'Tom' or 'Riddle'. Clearly he's remembering him as a relatively normal child, rather than the monster he became.

Particularly after the ordeals with his sister & brother and Grindelwald, he was possibly particularly sensitive to thinking back and considering how he could have done things differently. He had a lot of regret for a lot of things, and it feels like it's quite clear that Tom Riddle was one of them.

It's also possible that he feels like he could have done more to stop Harry's parents being killed. Whilst it was far from being his fault, again due to his sensitivity it's likely he would have took a portion of the blame onto himself.

The fact that Dumbledore puts so much effort into rectifying these things that he did wrong shows that he feels remorse for them. He did a lot to try and stop Voldemort when he returned, putting his own reputation on the line in order to support Harry's accusations that he was back, and eventually losing his life for it as well.

Overall I think that he spent so much effort on Harry to try to prove that he didn't do anything wrong with Tom. Harry grew up in an incredibly abusive environment, and he could have easily headed down a darker path. He was very nearly put into Slytherin, imagine if he'd been friends with Malfoy, the two would have been an unstoppable pair of potentially dark wizards.

Dumbledore tried to not have any direct effect or influence on Harry at first. He used Hagrid and McGonagall to try and steer Harry in the right direction early on without personally intervening, to try to prove if he did not directly interfere in Harry's early upbringing, he could turn out good, just as easily as Tom turned out bad. That would admonish him of any guilt he felt, as it would have been the person, not the upbringing, that ultimately decided their fate.

TL;DR: Whilst it's almost impossible to say whether Tom was inevitably going to turn out evil, Dumbledore did everything he could to try to prove that Harry, in similar circumstances, could turn out good. This is so that any responsibility he felt for the rise of Voldemort could be diminished by Harry turning out good and ultimately leading to his downfall.

  • Neither Harry, nor Draco Malfoy were anywhere close to the skills of Voldemort. They are average students or (at best) a bit above the average. A corrupted Harry could be as bad as Umbridge if he had the appropriate position in the Ministry. Voldemort is a threat manly due to his magical power.
    – vap78
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 18:32

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