In Philosopher’s Stone, when Harry chooses his wand, Ollivander says:

“The wand chooses the wizard, remember … I think we must expect great things from you, Mr Potter … After all, He Who Must Not Be Named did great things – terrible, yes, but great.

— Chapter 5 (Diagon Alley)

And IIRC, he repeats this in Goblet of Fire when he’s examining the champions’s wands.

One could argue that making several Horcruxes is a great thing. Or that inventing a potion to recover your body after it being destroyed is a great thing. Or even coming up with the Taboo.

But Ollivander wasn't aware of the first, and the latter hadn’t happened yet. At this time, all Voldemort really had done was kill a bunch of people, torture some more, create a group of dark magic tattoo enthusiasts (a.k.a. Death Eaters) and that's it.

What great things had Voldemort accomplished when Ollivander says so to Harry?

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    The word "great" is actually a lot closer to "big" than it is to "good" May 22, 2013 at 14:54
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    Ollivander doesn’t mention the connection in GoF, actually. Harry is quite hopeful that Ollivander doesn’t mention it, for the obvious press it would get.
    – alexwlchan
    Jul 19, 2014 at 8:07
  • Maybe it's a British usage? I can't imagine an American ever using "great" like this. Apr 20, 2018 at 17:11
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    For example in the line from the hymn/ novel/tv show. "All creatures great and small" Great means large. Mar 4 at 17:22
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    WWI was referred toas The Great War as it was huge and important. It was not implying in was wonderful. Mar 4 at 17:25

9 Answers 9


Voldemort was great but in an extremely evil way. He was extremely powerful, intelligent and gifted but he used all of his gifts for ultimate evil: such as, mass murder, torture, world domination, sinking deeper into the Dark Arts farther than anyone else before him, etc...

So he was "great" due to the enormity of his power and his crimes.

Olivander would know that Voldemort tried to take over the world earlier and nearly succeeded if Harry hadn't stopped him.

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    Exactly. Voldemort 'pushed the boundaries of magic' in ways no one ever had before. I would also assume from Dumbledore's description of Tom Riddle in Chamber of Secrets and Half-Blood Prince that Voldemort also did 'great things in the traditional sense of 'exceptional brilliance' while at Hogwarts. He was a 'great' wizard by all accounts pre-Voldemort... but used his greatness for evil. May 21, 2013 at 13:46
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    In HBP(movie), Slughorn tells Harry about Voldemort, When I first met Mr. Riddle, he was a quiet albeit brilliant, boy committed to becoming a first-rate wizard. Not unlike others I've known. Not unlike yourself, in fact. If the monster existed it was buried deep within. Apr 28, 2014 at 15:31
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    To add to this, a nuke is a great bomb. Terrible, yes, but great Mar 4 at 18:06

This is akin to Times Magazine "Person of the Year" thing - they included Hitler and Stalin, because "Man of the Year" is a person "for better or for worse, ...has done the most to influence the events of the year". In other words, "great" a morality-free judgement.

As such, Olivander was entirely right. Voldemort performed and achieved extremely advanced levels of magic, unrivaled by anyone save possibly a handful other known wizards. Again, leaving morality aside, magically achieving effective immortality is indeed, a sign of great magic.

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    I agree to the second paragraph, but as stated in the question, noone knew he actually achieved immortality at the time Ollivander said those thing about greatness... right ?
    – Kalissar
    Jun 17, 2013 at 14:11
  • @Kalissar - Dumbledore knew. Others knew. Ollivander was smart enough to listen to what Dumbledore said, likely. Jun 17, 2013 at 14:15
  • Has Times Magazine ever elected Voldemort for that?
    – user931
    Jul 19, 2014 at 8:25
  • Hitler was man of the year before he started WW2 and everyone knew how terrible he was, they never would have picked him otherwise. Also what no one ever seems to mention is that Joseph Stalin was the man of the year the year after Hitler and he was just as bad.
    – Probst
    Apr 30, 2015 at 21:00

He likely was using a definition of “great” that didn’t mean good.

Merriam-Webster gives eleven definitions of the word “great”, only two of which also imply “good”.

1 a : notably large in size : huge all creatures great and small
b : of a kind characterized by relative largeness —used in plant and animal names the great horned owl
c : elaborate, ample great detail
2 a : large in number or measure : numerous great multitudes
b : predominant the great majority
3 : remarkable in magnitude, degree, or effectiveness great bloodshed
4 : full of emotion great with anger
5 a : eminent, distinguished a great poet
b : chief or preeminent over others —often used in titles Lord Great Chamberlain
c : aristocratic, grand great ladies
6 : long continued a great while
7 : principal, main a reception in the great hall
8 : more remote in a family relationship by a single generation than a specified relative great-grandfather
9 : markedly superior in character or quality; especially : noble great of soul
10 a : remarkably skilled great at tennis
b : marked by enthusiasm : keen great on science fiction
11 —used as a generalized term of approval had a great time it was just great

Several of these definitions can be easily be used to describe the Dark Lord’s deeds without implying approval of them, like definitions 1, 3, and 10. To me, it seems most likely Ollivander was intending something like definition 3 - remarkable in magnitude, degree, or effectiveness.

“Great” things the Dark Lord did that Ollivander would know of:

As far as what specifically Ollivander was referring to as the Dark Lord’s “great deeds”, he most likely meant what he’d done in his rise to power. Ollivander wouldn’t know the entire extent of what the Dark Lord had done (like creating Horcruxes), but he’d certainly know what was common knowledge in the wizarding world.

Instill fear and terror among the wizarding world:

When the Dark Lord was most powerful, the wizarding world lived in fear - just like he wanted it.

“Dark days, Harry. Didn’t know who ter trust, didn’t dare get friendly with strange wizards or witches … Terrible things happened. He was takin’ over.”
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 4 (The Keeper of the Keys)

Kill powerful wizards:

The Dark Lord killed anyone who opposed him, including skilled wizards who would put up a fight.

“No one ever lived after he decided ter kill ’em, no one except you, an’ he’d killed some o’ the best witches an’ wizards of the age – the McKinnons, the Bones, the Prewetts – an’ you was only a baby, an’ you lived.”
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 4 (The Keeper of the Keys)

  • This is the only answer so far that actually gives examples of great things that Ollivander definitely would have known about.
    – Alex
    Oct 25, 2018 at 0:21
  • Some other great things that aren't good: the Great Plague of London, the Great Fire of London, and the Great Train Robbery.
    – PM 2Ring
    Sep 1, 2023 at 23:09

Voldemort did do "great things". The magic he did was memorable and left an everlasting impression on the wizarding society and affected them greatly because he was able to bring about the true personalities in characters by exposing their desires for power. As Voldemort puts it: "There is no good and evil, there is only power...and those too weak to seek it" (Sorcerers Stone). And he sought power and greatness, whether it was for the best or not is a decision for the reader to decide.


Great does not mean better than good as too many people believe, that word is better and the superlative is best.

Great means large, immense, memorable, and eventful


Although Voldemort's most impressive magical feats were not known to the public, there are several that Ollivander might have known of.

  • He killed countless people. Voldemort was said to have killed enough people to "make an army" of Inferi. As mentioned in the other answers, many of them were highly skilled in their own right. Undoubtedly Ollivander would be aware of this.

  • He mounted a fairly successful rebellion, in essence, against the Ministry of Magic in Great Britain, which was at the brink of victory when Voldemort disappeared. It was him and his motley crew of pureblood supremacists, giants, and so forth against the magical government, and they were winning. All this in the one European country where even Gellert Grindelwald had failed to gain a foothold, the same country where Albus Dumbledore resided.

  • Voldemort showed extraordinary facility with the Killing Curse. The Killing Curse is preferable to essentially any other curse against a single target, since it is unblockable, but it is extremely difficult; Voldemort's own Death Eaters frequently resort to other curses, despite having both skill and murderous intent. If we consider Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, even the dark wizard Grindelwald preferred other single-target spells over Avada Kedavra.

    Voldemort, however, casts Avada Kedavra almost exclusively as an offensive spell, suggesting that he has total confidence in his ability to cast the spell effectively under pressure.

    Given how many people Voldemort killed, Ollivander probably was aware of the former's considerable skill with the Killing Curse.

  • Voldemort created the spell Morsmorde to summon the Dark Mark. We don't know of any other spell that quite does this.

  • He created the Dark Mark itself. The Dark Mark allows Voldemort to communicate with his followers in a manner much more personal and effective than Hermione's DA coins. It also allows him to cause pain to his minions, and is linked to his mind, since it grew darker as he regained his power. Further, as seen in The Half-Blood Prince, it could be used to get past certain barriers keyed to it.

    Ollivander would have known about both these things; Voldemort made no secret of casting the Dark Mark above dwellings where his Death Eaters had killed, and the method of communication with the Dark Mark was also known. It's not clear whether he knew about the possibility of creating barriers that only someone with a Dark Mark could bypass, but he might have.

  • Voldemort was capable of flying without the aid of a broom, something that (in the books) no other witch or wizard has been seen to do, save for those who were taught the secret by Voldemort.

    Ollivander probably didn't know about this, since it seemed that the Order was surprised by this talent of Voldemort's. However, it's not entirely out of the question that he might have.


As Terry Pratchett pointed out in his excellent book Lords and Ladies, terms like "great" or "awesome" do not necessarily mean good, even though that is how people commonly use them today. One of the most awesome things I have ever seen was a tropical depression making its ponderous way directly towards me when I was camping on an island in the Florida Keys. It was awesome in its terrible power and majesty, and yet most certainly not good.

The Wizarding World sees Voldemort similarly to that storm: an unstoppable Juggernaut, great and terrible* in his malevolence. It is not for no reason that they refuse to say his name. While wizards such as Ollivander may not have necessarily known about things like the horcruxes, they did know that any who opposed or disrespected him died. If you saw the Dark Mark hovering over a loved one's home, there could be no doubt as to what had happened.

* Interestingly, while Rowling uses the word "great" here in its dated definition of amoral power, she simultaneously uses "terrible" in its modern, morally-connotative use.


To me, this line in the book seems meant to invoke the phrase "great and terrible," as in "the great and terrible day of the Lord" from the New Testament. JK Rowling peppered lots of biblical underpinnings throughout the Potter series, so this seems to line up.

So then, what are the "great things" that ol' Voly did? He invented new magic, organized a huge amount of the magic community, and got close to taking over the world. Sort of a failed version of Palpatine's feats that culminated with the start of the Empire at the end of SW, Episode 3.

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    Even if that's true, this doesn't answer the question, which was asking what were the "great things" Voldemort had accomplished, or at least the ones Ollivander had in mind. Sep 1, 2023 at 1:17
  • @LogicDictates Fair enough. I'll update. Sep 1, 2023 at 20:31

As a child, untrained in magic Riddle did many things, not nice, but remarkable. He continued at Hogwarts and after as a young adult. From working at Borgin and Burkes and then on his own, his magic and quest for power was a passion. His lack of conscience enabled him to succeed and push further in Dark magic than others.

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