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During the First Wizarding War, why didn't Dumbledore just hunt Voldemort down, as he had done with Grindelwald?

By 'hunting down', I mean finding, defeating and imprisoning him, exactly as in Gridelwald's case, and not, say killing him, something which Dumbledore would not do, as the answers to a previous question (as to him not hunting down Death Eaters) show.

Dumbledore knew that Voldemort had delved into the Dark Arts deeper than anyone else in history and hence "had powers he will never have". But he must have also known well that he could have defeated Voldemort at a direct confrontation, given that he had defeated Grindelwald earlier even against the Elder Wand, and now had that same wand at his disposal. He is seen confident about this throughout the series.

At the Battle of the Department of Mysteries, he did not go beyond outweighing Voldemort and forcing him to flee, probably because, by then, he had reasons to suspect that there was more to Voldemort's survival than his physical body, and thus, destroying that body which had Harry's blood without permanently disposing him off would not have been wise.

But why did he not do that at the First Wizarding War? Is it just that they could not track him down, or did he suspect even then that Voldemort had more sinister things about his soul? is there any canon confirmation of the latter suspicion?

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    I'm pretty sure Voldemort was in hiding. For all we know Dumbledore was 'hunting' him, but Voldemort ended up getting to the Potters first. – Jack B Nimble May 12 '14 at 19:55
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    Dumbledore suspected "for a long time" that Voldemort might be making Horcruxes (HBP). He was satisfied that he was right when Harry gave him the diary (HBP). As to killing, Dumbledore says he never killed unless he had to (DH). As far as I know, canon doesn't explicitly state why Dumbledore didn't hunt Voldemort down in the first wizarding war. I could be wrong on that last bit. – Slytherincess May 12 '14 at 19:59
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    I would like to mark as duplicate, but the time-line and context of this Q are slightly different enough to warrant a new Q. Maybe? Let the Gods... I mean Mods decide... scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/17188/… – Möoz May 13 '14 at 2:38
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I don't think there is any canon answer, but I would suggest that you get a number of deeper insights into Dumbledore's character in the Deathly Hallows.

From these, I would surmise that initially Dumbledore chose not to do so. I could say this is one of the times where Dumbledore and Gandalf (Lord of the Rings) are very similar in nature.

'But I have so little of any of these things! You are wise and powerful. Will you not take the Ring?'

'No!' cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. 'With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.' His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within. 'Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great, for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.'

Dumbledore chose to spend his life teaching, protecting and empowering others. He seems to have clearly made the choice to set aside "power" after the events surrounding the death of his sister, Ariana. Hunting down Voldemort would have been a overt act of power, something that he had spent his entire life avoiding.

“Years passed. There were rumors about him. They said he had procured a wand of immense power. I, meanwhile, was offered the post of Minister of Magic, not once, but several times. Naturally, I refused. I had learned that I was not to be trusted with power.”

“But you’d have been better, much better, than Fudge or Scrimgeour!” burst out Harry.

“Would I?” asked Dumbledore heavily. “I am not so sure. I had proven, as a very young man, that power was my weakness and my temptation. It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.

"I was safer at Hogwarts. I think I was a good teacher—"

Once the prophecy by Sybill Trelawney was made, it would also have been clear that it was not Dumbledore's place to defeat Voldemort.

When it came to Grindelwald, that was an entirely different matter. Dumbledore clearly felt he had a direct hand in creating the problem and as such probably felt compelled to act.

“Well, Grindelwald fled, as anyone but I could have predicted. He vanished, with his plans for seizing power, and his schemes for Muggle torture, and his dreams of the Deathly Hallows, dreams in which I had encouraged him and helped him.

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    +1 for confirming which Gandalf you're talking about – user46509 Sep 30 '16 at 19:47
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There is no clear and logical answer to this question.

However, I think the reason why Dumbledore chose to remain at bay regarding Voldemort was mainly because:

1) Voldemort, like Dumbledore, embarked on a quest to learn more about magic (particularly Dark Arts) and was thereby dangerous because he had delved much too far into its history to satisfy his self interests; and

2) Voldemort had created Horcruxes--he didn't create all seven at once, but did so over the period of time that dated back from his graduation from Hogwarts to the events of Goblet of Fire, in which he made a horcrux out of Nagini the snake.

Killing Voldemort within this time frame would have not only been pointless, because Voldemort would have been able to come back because of his horcruxes, but it went against Dumbledore's moral leanings--he did not kill, and he makes this clear to Harry in Deathly Hallows, that he "avoided killing" if he could. Even in Order of the Phoenix, when he and Voldemort dueled at the Ministry of Magic, Voldemort asks him:

"You do not seek to kill me, Dumbledore?" and Dumbledore replies

"There are better ways of destroying man, Tom".

Remember, he could have killed Grindelwald as well after defeating him and winning ownership of the Elder wand...he didn't, he instead let nature run its course and Grindelwald was imprisoned.

The bottom line is that Dumbledore knew his moral standing--had he relentlessly pursued Voldemort with the intent of killing him, he would have been no better than Voldemort, given that Voldemort too was relentlessly pursuing Harry with the intention of killing him. Dumbledore refused to loose sleep over Voldemort--but that doesn't mean he wasn't taking the issue seriously; it just means he was off doing better things. For example, over the course of the series, Voldemort is portrayed as desperately doing whatever was in his power to get to Harry--which was all he did, really. Meanwhile, as is revealed in Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore is portrayed as having used his spare time to delve into Voldemort's past and carefully recover facts and secrets about him, eventually finding out about his creation of his Horcruxes and realizing that they were the critical key to his downfall--he even destroyed one of them.

Had Dumbledore killed him during the first Wizarding War, or in The Order of the Phoenix, or really at any time of the series, he would have made matters much worse.

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    There's a good answer in here, but it's lost in this huge wall of text. Editing and using paragraphs will lead to big improvements in your upvotes; uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Wall_of_Text – Valorum Oct 12 '14 at 9:14
  • Did Dumbledore know about the Horcruxes before his first fall ? I never got that impression and one would think if he had he would have started hunting them down sooner. The first to be destroyed I believe was the diary, by Harry, and it's what made Dumbledore aware of the possibilities. Before his first fall did anyone know Voldemort would survive a backfiring curse or rather how if he did? As in was there any evidence? But I agree with the idea he's not a killer and he'd be no better than Riddle if he did (though many will argue 'for the better good' and if that works for them so be it). – Pryftan Jul 27 '17 at 23:39
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Dumbledore may have believed that there was a path for Voldemort back to Tom Riddle. It is unclear in canon whether Dumbledore knew how far Voldemort had gone in the dark arts during the First Wizarding War; he may have believed that he could still be saved and forgiven.

On other note, for all we know, he and the Order may have been directly seeking out Lord Voldemort and failed to find him before Peter Pettigrew became the Potters' secret keeper, when he disappeared.

  • I don't think the Order found Voldemort either before or after Peter Pettigrew became the Potters' Secret Keeper and James and Lily were killed. Voldemort was reduced to a spectre of himself after trying to kill Harry, and fled. He then existed in a ghost-like state until around the time of PoA (or thereabouts). – Slytherincess May 12 '14 at 20:03
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    I didn't mean that they found him, but that he disappeared at that point (unfindable except by those he sought out) (edited) – Jesan Fafon May 12 '14 at 20:17
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There are two lessons, one of which Dumbledore learned earlier than did Voldemort, and one which Dumbledore learned and which Voldemort actively rejected.

The first lesson is that the importance of knowing exactly what you are doing is paramount. They both learned this, which is why both of them devoted themselves to acquiring as much knowledge of magic as they possibly could. We see in the conference in the beginning of Deathly Hallows that Voldemort admitted his own failure to make sure that he had not overlooked any important details. In the meeting in the antechamber of death (ie. Harry's vision of King's Cross Station), Dumbledore makes much the same confession; he had become so drunk with dreams of power, and what he would do with it, that he was overlooking some very important things, like taking care of his sister, and making sure that his partner in his schemes was someone of good character.

The bigger lesson was that in life the true way forward is not via power or cleverness, but in honesty, courage, and humility. To his shame, it took the death of Dumbledore's sister to teach him this, but he did learn it. Voldemort never did learn; his answer to every setback was to double down on being more clever and more ruthless.

Hence Dumbledore did not seek to match Voldemort's power with power. Instead, he strove to make sure that he fully understood the situation, understood that ultimately the victory rested in the hands of another, and thereby found the key.

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