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Pursuant to Why Could Young Tom Riddle Do Wandless Magic, I have a somewhat related question.

The majority of Harry Potter readers automatically assume that Dumbledore must be a better wizard than Voldemort, because Dumbledore is "good" and Voldemort is "evil." However, would Tom Riddle's prematurely developed skills demonstrate that Voldemort was inherently a better wizard than Dumbledore?

In chapter 17, The Heir of Slytherin, Harry challenges Tom Riddle when he claims to be the greatest sorcerer in the world, retorting that Albus Dumbledore is the greatest sorcerer in the world. Harry reminds Tom Riddle that Voldemort is frightened of Dumbledore. Conversely, in Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore himself states that Voldemort knows perhaps more magic than any other wizard alive. Yet, as Harry is J.K. Rowling's most direct voice, do we conclude that Dumbledore was, in fact, the superior wizard?

Who was the better¹ wizard: Voldemort or Dumbledore?

¹Better meaning on a technically skilled level.

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    If I remember correctly (I read the first two books when they came out, and that's all) Dumbledore is some sort of father figure who's supposed to wise and so forth. So, maybe he was just being modest? – bitmask Apr 21 '12 at 2:57
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    What precisely do you mean by "technical" - Midichlorians powerful, Yoda-experience, ...? – Kevin Apr 21 '12 at 4:44
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    Midichlorians = (potential for) raw power. Yoda = experience, wisdom, control over what power he has. – Kevin Apr 21 '12 at 15:47
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    I think both? The Midochlorians are, yes, the potential, but it's the Yoda-ing that shapes the ultimate actualization of the Midochlorian potential. That we are clarifying an HP question with SW examples is awesome! :D – Slytherincess Apr 21 '12 at 16:58
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    Ensuing meta thread: What is the difference between asking these two questions? – user56 Dec 13 '12 at 2:27
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In the first book there is a discussion between McGonagall and Dumbledore while they are waiting for Hagrid. Dumbledore uses the name "Voldemort" and McGonagall cringes:

"My dear Professor, surely a sensible person like yourself can call him by his name? All this 'You-Know-Who' nonsense - for eleven years I have been trying to persuade people to call him by his proper name: Voldemort." Professor McGonagall flinched, but Dumbledore, who was unsticking two lemon drops, seemed not to notice. "It all gets so confusing if we keep saying 'You-Know-Who.' I have never seen any reason to be frightened of saying Voldemort's name."

"I know you haven't," said Professor McGonagall, sounding half exasperated, half admiring. "But you're different. Everyone knows you're the only one You-Know- oh, all right, Voldemort, was frightened of."

"You flatter me," said Dumbledore calmly. "Voldemort had powers I will never have."

"Only because you're too - well - noble to use them."

I think Rowling lays it out right there, in the first chapter of the first book, that Dumbledore is the better wizard.

Also, consider this: when Dumbledore defeated Grindlewald, Grindlewald had the Elder Wand. Dumbledore defeated him in a straight up duel, not through trickery or subterfuge. That means Dumbledore was better than Grindlewald -- the most feared dark wizard until Voldemort showed up -- even when he was at a disadvantage because Grindlewald had the most powerful wand in the world.

I imagine what it comes down to is that, in terms of raw magical power, Voldemort, Dumbledore and Grindlewald were all equal. At some point, you have enough raw power to do whatever you want to. It becomes a question of knowledge and how you use that power. Dumbledore -- of all three of them -- had the most complete understanding of magic. He knew how to use the dark magic that Grindlewald and Voldemort employed -- but chose not to. Or else, knew of its existence and chose not to delve further than he had to. As I remember the quote in the first book -- and correct me if this is wrong -- Dumbledore says that Voldemort has powers he "will never have". But not powers that he will never understand. That is a key difference. Conversely, Dumbledore understands and employs parts of magic that Voldemort is completely unaware of. And even after he becomes aware of them, he doesn't truly understand them.

TL;DR In terms of raw power, I would guess they are close enough to equal. But Dumbledore has a much more complete understanding of magic than Voldemort.

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    This is a really fabulous answer -- very nice! I tend to agree with you that Dumbledore had a more complete understanding of magic than Voldemort, the latter who picked and chose what suited him at any given moment. :) – Slytherincess Apr 21 '12 at 17:01
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    Aww... I appreciate the edit (and having the exact quote), but I was rather pleased with myself for having come so close to the quote from memory. Especially considering I haven't actually read that book in years! – Daniel Bingham Apr 22 '12 at 13:24
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    One thing I wonder is whether being master of the Elder Wand gave Dumbledore the slight edge over Voldemort. In other words, would Dumbledore be the superior wizard if he had not mastered the Elder Wand from Grindelwald? – Slytherincess Apr 22 '12 at 16:20
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    @Daniel it was very impressive - you were almost spot on!! I wouldn't have bothered, but I had just finished rereading Book 1 and I had the book handy on my Kindle within arm's reach :) – hairboat Apr 24 '12 at 18:22
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    @Abby No worries, I'm glad you did. I just wanted my feat of memory recorded for posterity ;) – Daniel Bingham Apr 24 '12 at 20:54
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It is my belief that, in terms of raw magical power, Dumbledore, Grindelwald and Voldemort are indeed close to equal, being 17 years old Tom Marvolo Riddle slightly more powerful than 17-year-old Albus Dumbledore, and Dumbledore slightly more powerful than a 17-year-old Grindelwald.

In terms of general knowledge of magic, in terms of academic brightness, I would say it was Dumbledore, Grindelwald and Voldemort. The first knew the entire spectrum of magic but chose not to delve into the Dark Arts. The latter two knew quite a lot of magic, and were specialists in the Dark Arts. Voldemort, being awfully ignorant of the consequences chose to delve further than anybody else. But I don't think of him as a creative genius. The only two things he invented were the Despair Potion to protect the locket and the Dark Mark. He didn't invent the unforgivable curses, he was just the best practitioner of them. He didn't invent Inferi, or horcruxes. He just made better ones.

Dumbledore thinks that Voldemort knows more magic than any of the Wizarding world. I have my doubts. He certainly knows many potions, many spells, and he performs magic with outstanding performances with extraordinary might. But he seems to fail to fully grasp what he's doing. He underwent body transformations to become stronger (we see this when he uses Harry's blood to make his new body indestructible - like he believed Harry's to be). And drank unicorn blood to that end also.

In terms of dueling skills, I think that it's clear Dumbledore was more skillful than Grindelwald; now, if he didn't have the Elder Wand, perhaps - and this is big perhaps - Voldemort might have defeated him in the Ministry. This is big maybe. Because we see that Dumbledore was not really trying to defeat him, rather trying to protect Harry, himself, and keep Voldemort from leaving until Fudge could arrive. So when he tried to engulf Voldy in the water bubble, the spell might have not be strong enough hold him for more than a second, and Voldy would have hit the killing curse on Dumbledore. But this is big maybe. We all saw how clever and how quick Dumby was. Because he had the Elder Wand, it's possible that he was able to delay him just enough for Fudge.

Regarding the powers he said he will never have, I believe he meant Parseltongue, natural born Legilimency, and possession. You can learn Legilimency (like he did), and learn to understand Parseltongue (like he did), and even say a few words like Ron did, but Voldemort inherited those powers from his mother.

A good comparison would be Darth Vader, Darth Sidious and Yoda. Yoda being Dumby, Sidious being Grindy, and Vader being Voldy. Perhaps, the last two switched given Sidious mastered abilities Vader never did, while Vader was much more powerful. It is said that, at their time, each one of them was considered to be the brightest student to have ever set foot in their school. Though I find it hard to believe Dumbledore to be brighter than Merlin (the Prince of Charms - many of the Transfiguration spells and charms used today were invented by him) and Riddle to be brighter than Dumbledore.

I don't think, however, that Voldemort feared Dumbledore because of his skills as duelist, or magical might. I think it's gravely subjective to him that Dumbledore saw who he was at the age of 10/11, and that he was never able to fool Dumbledore. Also that, like him, he was very well informed of everything that was happening. I believe he disappeared after killing Hepzibath Smith precisely because he thought Dumbledore might have connected the killings of Little Hangleton (the Riddle family) in the previous year, with the death of Smith. Morfin Gaunt complained that his ring was stolen, and Smith's Cup and locket she purchased from Borgin & Burkes had disappeared according to her house-elf. The same way he meddled and altered his uncle's memory, and the elf's memory, Dumbledore could have denounced him and put the entire Ministry, plus himself after him; he was still carrying his horcruxes with him, because he hadn't engineered enough protection to safeguard them.

To sum up: like Dumbledore feared Grindelwald for his secrets, Voldemort feared Dumbledore because he could breach into his secrets. Besides, Dumbledore was an exceptionally brave man, he faced his fear of Grindelwald and took him on in his territory. He faced Voldemort all along doing wonders at great personal cost - a true Gryffindor. He was willing to take on Fudge and the entire Auror office alone, while Voldemort only personally attacked Hogwarts with an army of followers, leaving the most important part of the battle for his Death Eaters, his giants, his dementors, his Ministry employees, his snatchers.

Therefore, Dumbledore was by far the better wizard. Not to mention that he set the chess play in motion so that Harry could finish the job; stupidly Voldemort took the bait, and played along, just as Dumbledore had foreseen, and he was beaten as a result.

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    You might consider adding paragraph breaks where appropriate, it helps make your text more readable and appealing. – Mark Rogers Dec 11 '12 at 20:18
  • There are already three newlines in the wikitext, they're just not shown in the formatted text because they're single newlines. – b_jonas Dec 11 '12 at 20:53
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    I believe you are selling Voldemort's inventiveness short. While he was not the first to create a horcrux, the enchantments he placed on them were incredible and likely original (the diary for example). He also created the body restoring potion seen at the end of Goblet of Fire, and was also the first wizard to ever fly unaided (a feat prior thought impossible). And there may be more inventions/discoveries that we simply didn't get a chance to see. – ssell Nov 4 '15 at 16:12
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    Please don't say "Voldy", "Dumby" or "Grindy", Eddy. That's just yuck. – MarioDS Apr 14 '18 at 20:28
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Dumbledore was the superior strategist but purely in terms of power, Voldemort was more skilled as he was able to match Dumbledore at the Ministry despite Dumbledore's possession of the Elder Wand.

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    I disagree with this because Dumbledore was purposefully limiting himself. Remember Dumbledore did not use the Dark Arts while Voldemort did. I think that even things out. Had Dumbledore had the Elder Wand AND been willing to use Dark Magic it may very well have turned out different. Also we did never see who would have won in the end as it was interrupted. – StevenDStanton Feb 9 '16 at 19:26
  • Also, if I remember right, by then Dumbledore strongly suspected the existence of the horcruxes. Also, Dumbledore expresses very strong sentiments against killing (that it permanently damages your own soul to kill another), so whereas Voldemort was happy to throw everything at Dumbledore during that fight, Dumbledore was likely conscientiously fighting in a way meant to only capture/disable/disarm, which tends to require more restraint and finesse. – mtraceur Oct 18 '16 at 5:35
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    The Elder Wand is a massive advantage, provided you are the true owner. daveinator007 has it right. – PoloHoleSet Oct 18 '16 at 19:00
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In my mind, this question is easily answered. Dumbledore is clearly the better wizard, and here is why.

Dumbledore is obviously a humble man, mostly due to mistakes made in his youth. On many occasions he says that people calling him "the most powerful wizard ever" are flattering him. But you'll notice that he does well to never tell untruths, he just bats around it. For example, in Daniel Brigham's answer, the conversation with McGonagall, "He had powers I will never have". This is true because Voldemort had Horcruxes and the use of Inferi, but Dumbledore doesn't say, "Voldemort would have beaten my pants off in a duel!" Because he knows he is more powerful than Voldemort.

Next, let's look at some quasi-quantitative data. Duels! Let's look at the fights we see Dumbledore win. He defeats Grindelwald at the height of his power against the power of the Elder wand. This takes some doing, but we don't know that Voldemort couldn't have achieved the same feat. We see Dumbledore defeat four ministry of magic officials in one 10 second duel, 3 if you don't count Kingsley. And, possibly most importantly, he finishes the duel at the Ministry between the death-eaters and the order. All of the death eaters, who are claimed in the book to be almost as bad as Voldemort himself, flee before him, and he rounds them up with very little effort. Voldemort meanwhile, confronts, at most, two at a time. Harry's unarmed parents, Madam Bones, Scrimgeour. Basically, Voldemort just kills one on one, and normally against the unarmed, although, it is possible he has killed a ton at once, but even this takes little skill. The Avada Kedavra is only one spell. The only time we see him have a real challenge is during the battle of Hogwarts where he duels three at once, McGonagall, Slughorn, and Sprout(?). He fails to kill any of these three, although he is not overcome by them. Of course this is hard to put definitively, but I would tend to give Dumbledore the edge here.

Speaking of the Duel at the Ministry, let's look at the duel between Voldemort and Dumbledore, their only face-to-face battle, as far as the books tell us. Voldemort is doing his best to defeat Dumbledore, while Dumbledore knows killing Voldemort is useless. He seemingly has Voldemort defeated after encasing him in water, before Voldemort possesses Harry, then runs away. All the while Dumbledore is charming the statues of the Fountain of Magical brethren to keep them protecting Harry. Now, it isn't clear exactly who is actually superior. Dumbledore is not truly trying to kill Voldemort, as he knows it's useless, so he may be trying to capture him alive, or gain information about the suspected horcruxes, which would imply that he is not giving it his all, however, he also possesses the Elder wand during this fight, and Fawkes takes a curse which seems to be lethal, so Dumbledore is not fighting on pure skill. It seems as thought Dumbledore had the upper hand to me, however.

Honestly, I think the most damning evidence is schoolwork. Yes, it may seem underwhelming, but think about the description of the two wizards at school. We have Tom Riddle, the quiet but talented boy who charmed all his teachers. He received top marks in every subject and the award for special services to the school. You know who else scored top marks in every subject? Dawlish, the constantly confunded Auror, who is one of the ministry officials Dumbledore owns. And that award for special services? He arrested the wrong person, who put up no known struggle, for a crime he committed. What a talented young lad. Dumbledore? According to Skeeter, he won EVERY prize of note at the school, was published in many research journals including 'Challenges in Charming' and 'Transfiguration Today', aced all his NEWTs, and was soon in correspondence with the most noted magical researchers of the day including Nicolas Flamel, a man who was already hundreds of years old at the time, yet needed the help of a 17 year-old-boy. YEAH, he was talented as no one else ever was. You can try to excuse this by the old, "yeah, but Riddle didn't try at school", except that he did. He aced his NEWT's, he researched tons (albeit in dark magic), it was hardly like he was trying to float under the radar and skate by in classes.

Basically, I believe Dumbledore has a slight (at worst), upperhand in all categories, which means that overall Dumbledore wins by a fair margin. Of course there are lots of details which are unaccounted for in the books, so it is hard to be 100% sure. Honestly, what seems to me to be more interesting is whether Snape is more powerful a wizard than Voldemort.

0

Dumbledore was a more skillful, more powerful, modest, more knowledgeable person than Voldemort because the whole wizarding community admired his power and knowledge.

But Voldemort feared him (but did not accept it); he knew that Dumbledore knew more magic than him, so it frightened him.

So he comes to actual power after Dumbledore's death.

Dumbledore doesn't accept he knows more magic then anyone because he hates dark magic. He also has the power to foresee the future and admire that other wizard knows magic he never had (which shows that the great dont call himself great like Voldemort; the other call them great. All other wizards and Harry himself clear this statement in final book)

Dumbledore did not arrest him (he has never wanted to kill any one) because he knows he cant be killed until all his horcruxes were destroyed.

0

I think Dumbledore was more powerful because he cleverly planned with Severus how to protect and guide Harry and when was the right time to reveal the secrets to Harry as Voldemort was at his most vulnerable. It was because of his clever planing Harry was able to defeat Voldemort. In fact Voldemort was a bit careless. He underestimated Harry and failed to kill him when he was a baby , in the graveyard and in Hogwarts Castle which led to his downfall. He himself says in the 4th part that "That was old magic , something that i should have foreseen". So it shows he was careless at times. Also his biggest mistake was that he killed Severus and thought that the Elder Wand answered to him. But it was in fact Harry's so the curse again backfired and killed him. So clearly Dumbledore was wiser and clever where as Voldemort was powerful but he did not think deeply and handled it carelessly so the planing of Dumbledore was dead right and Harry defeated Voldy easily.

protected by DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 25 '14 at 14:13

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