43

The information is all clearly there, since Harry and Ron, two 12-year-olds, were able to figure it out (with a bit of help from a petrified Hermione), thought at the time Aragog was much younger and smaller and wouldn't have been as easy to find, so maybe the "spiders flee before it" clue would have been lost, although to be honest it's not exactly as vital a piece of the puzzle as the others.

Dumbledore himself is obviously a very capable and intelligent Wizard, and after Myrtle died she came back as a ghost and was able to provide (admittedly limited) details of her own death.

I don't know about you, but I'd have thought at least someone would have tried to piece it together at the time, and it wouldn't have taken them long to figure out "Oh, she saw a pair of big yellow eyes after hearing a boy speak a funny language in the bathroom and dropped dead? Sounds like she might have heard somebody order a Basilisk to look her in the eyes in parseltongue", especially if the investigator in question was someone like Dumbledore.

Do we have any info on why nobody seemed to have found out anything in 50 years prior to Harry Potter (and, probably more importantly, Hermione Granger) turning up at Hogwarts?

  • 1
    I don't think that just because Hermione figured it out independently, that Dumbledore didn't know it was a Basilisk. – amflare Jul 3 '17 at 14:10
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    Doesn't Myrtle say that nobody has ever asked her before when Harry asks how she died? – Anthony Grist Jul 3 '17 at 16:47
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    @DCOPTimDowd Poltergeists don't have any "post-death" experiences, since they're not dead. Also not sure what relevance that has. – Anthony Grist Jul 3 '17 at 19:15
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    Why has no one pointed out the passage where Riddle says that Dumbledore never seemed quite convinced and convinced then-Headmaster Dippet to keep Hagrid on as gamekeeper? – Wildcard Jul 3 '17 at 21:12
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    @DCOPTimDowd: Note that Potterverse has ghosts (that would be Sir Nicolas, the Bloody Baron, and Myrtle, among others), and poltergeists (that would be Peeves). Myrtle is not a poltergeist. – DevSolar Jul 4 '17 at 19:33
51

Dumbledore did know what was going on. He just couldn't stop it.

“The question is not who,” said Dumbledore, his eyes on Colin. “The question is, how. …”

... which he said after Creevy was petrified, and saw the melted camera. He pretty clearly knew what was up, that a Basilisk was in the school. Having researched Voldemort's history extensively, and had some firsthand experience as a teacher during Riddle's time as a student, he had ample opportunity to put the pieces together.

Unfortunately, that doesn't help him identify how Voldemort had infiltrated the school this time to let it loose, and stop it from that direction, as the diary is something he had no knowledge of. And it also doesn't mean he could get into the Chamber of Secrets, to stop the Basilisk at its source.

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    And prior to that year, he probably thought "It's fine, Voldemort's been destroyed and he left no heirs, so there's no chance of that Basilisk ever waking up again." – DisturbedNeo Jul 3 '17 at 14:51
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    If Dumbledore knew it was a Basilisk then it would have taken little effort to station 100 roosters around the castle... – josh Jul 4 '17 at 10:41
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    I'm not sure how your quote supports your point. It sounds like he knows that Voldemort is behind it, but isn't sure how he could be as Voldemort is dead-ish and definitely not in Hogwarts. – Forrest Venable Jul 4 '17 at 18:26
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    I'm with josh and Forrest here. I would say the Basilisk would qualify only as a what, not as a who. In your quote, "who" is Voldemort and the unknown "how" is the Basilisk. Again, if Dumbledore and thus the Hogwarts staff had known the culprit was a Basilisk, they could (and would) have taken more targeted countermeasures. – 11684 Jul 4 '17 at 19:30
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    I don't think that right. In that quote, Professor Dumbledore only meant he knew He Who Must Not Be Named was behind the attacks. He didn't know about the Basilisk. – b_jonas Aug 7 '17 at 14:07
44

It’s possible that Myrtle wasn’t able to fully cooperate with an investigation.

While the other clues (petrification, spiders fleeing before it, it being Slytherin’s monster) are helpful, Myrtle’s testimony is incredibly helpful in identifying the monster and the entrance to the Chamber. I don’t think there’s any way you could find the latter without Myrtle’s help.

So why didn’t Myrtle tell somebody what she’s seen?

In the immediate aftermath, I don’t think it would have been easy/possible to talk to Myrtle. By the time she was in a fit state to talk, most people would think the Chamber of Secrets was a closed case. And she doesn’t seem like much of a people person – I can’t imagine her volunteering the information willingly to Dumbledore.


She made herself an unreliable witness

After her death, Myrtle left the castle and made a nuisance of herself:

“Olive Hornby came into the bathroom — ‘Are you in here again, sulking, Myrtle?’ she said, ‘because Professor Dippet asked me to look for you —’ And then she saw my body… ooooh, she didn’t forget it until her dying day, I made sure of that… followed her around and reminded her, I did. I remember at her brother’s wedding —” […] “— and then, of course, she went to the Ministry of Magic to stop me stalking her, so I had to come back here and live in my toilet.”

Goblet of Fire, chapter 25 (The Egg and the Eye)

This won’t ingratiate herself to the Ministry, who do a lot of the investigations into dark magic. Consider also:

  • They think this is a closed case (they’ve caught the person they believe responsible)
  • The attacks have stopped
  • Myrtle is a Muggle-born, so there’s a limited pressure on them to do thorough follow-up in the case (imagine if, instead, say, a Malfoy were to be killed at Hogwarts)

And I can’t imagine they were rushing to talk to her. And it sounds like she’s no fan of the Ministry either, so for most of the intervening period, I don’t think either of them wanted to talk.


Myrtle is likely suffering from PTSD or similar

Consider:

  • Being killed is a very traumatic experience. And Myrtle was only 14 when it happened – as we get older, we come to terms with our mortality (for example, through the deaths of people who are close to us) – but she’s young enough that this may be her first real experience of death.
  • She had self-esteem issues before her death. She was being bullied at school for her appearance, among other things.
  • She probably can’t see her parents – they’re Muggles, who won’t be used to ghosts and may not be allowed to even see her.

Even years later, it’s implied she still has depression and contemplates suicide:

“Peeves upset me so much I came in here and tried to kill myself. Then, of course, I remembered that I’m — that I’m —”

“Already dead,” said Ron helpfully.

Chamber of Secrets, chapter 9 (The Writing on the Wall)

So if you went to talk to her – as a friend, headmaster or Ministry official – I wonder whether she’d be in a fit state to talk to you. Would she be willing, or able, to recount specific details of the night she died? There’s no evidence of counselling services in the magical world, so it’s possible she was left to just stew on her own for fifty years.


Myrtle has a soft spot for Harry

It’s implied that Myrtle has a crush on Harry – she asks him to visit her in the toilet, she follows him around, invites him to share her bathroom if he dies in the Chamber. Although it takes a while for her to warm to him, she does seem pleased to see him when he comes to visit:

Moaning Myrtle was sitting on the tank of the end toilet.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said when she saw Harry. “What do you want this time?”

“To ask you how you died,” said Harry.

Myrtle’s whole aspect changed at once. She looked as though she had never been asked such a flattering question.

Chamber of Secrets, chapter 16 (The Chamber of Secrets)

She goes on to explain the exact circumstances of her death, down to the faulty tap in the bathroom she haunts. She’s got to know Ron and Harry through their illicit activities that year, and I wonder if that makes her more willing to talk to them. She defaults to assuming everybody hates her or talks about her behind her back – only when she gets to know them does she trust them enough to talk about her death.

-2

Dumbledore isn't very good at (Defense Against) Dark Arts. He's an amazing duelist and one of the best wizards in the modern age, but he defers to a true prodigy's (namely Snape's) knowledge on this subject throughout the books.

Without such assistance he might know who did the killing, but how could easily be beyond him.

  • I suggest that in case of Myrtle, it could be hard to determine the cause of death. It could be any venomous creature. In case of Colin mentione in the other answer, the choice of possible perpetrator reduced, as clearly spiders do not petrify, they poison. – TimSparrow Jul 3 '17 at 14:29
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    "It could be any venomous creature"... except Myrtle didn't die of poisoning, she just dropped dead. – DisturbedNeo Jul 3 '17 at 14:43
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    @DisturbedNeo Either wizard forensics were not that good to make distinction, or they were too happy to have a culprit to convict that they ignored it. – TimSparrow Jul 3 '17 at 15:42
  • @TimSparrow I'd say it was a mix of both. They didn't have the necessary deductive skills/tools and it seemed a pretty open-and-shut case, so why bother? – DCOPTimDowd Jul 3 '17 at 17:01
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    The question is not focused on Dumbledore, he is only an example of a very intelligent person who didn't figure it out. There should be a lot of other people who could have investigated the case, why didn't they manage to come to the right conclusions. – Philipp Jul 5 '17 at 10:47

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