The Underground Lake #24: The Dark Lord Grindelwald

by Brandon

Here we are. Three of five. Go!

To me one of the most mysterious characters in the Harry Potter lexicon is the dark lord Grindelwald. Here’s a brief backstory based on what we know:

In 1945, Dumbledore rose to fame and prominence by defeating the dark lord Grindelwald, considered then to be the most powerful evil wizard of all time (obviously pre-Voldemort).

Talk about brief. All right, it’s kind of pitiful that that’s all we know, when in my opinion, I think this guy is critical to the story. I submit for your consideration and entertainment: THE DARK LORD GRINDELWALD!


1945 was a big year. While we Muggles were worrying about some tiny little spat called World War II (hardly worth mentioning), the wizard community was dealing with something far more dangerous: Grindelwald. Information is sketchy. All we know is that, before Voldemort, Grindelwald was the baddest thing on the block. Now how Dumbledore managed to take him down, we don’t know. However, it is my theory that a part of Half-Blood Prince will be devoted to this.

It has always been my contention that you can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been. One of the great things about these novels and growing up with them as they’re being written is that we get to know these characters and when we get a new installment, the previous novels are still in our mind so we can see the characters’ motivations. Harry and that two-way mirror are so tragic because one of Harry’s biggest flaws is his curiosity. His curiosity has gotten him into more trouble than Malfoy. The one time Sirius gives him something mysterious he does not succumb to curiosity out of love for Sirius. The irony then comes when we realize the one time he wasn’t curious was the one time he should have been. I think it’s the same appeal as Star Wars. We are watching a story unfold. I feel that an important lesson Harry is going to have to learn in order to defeat Voldemort is to learn how Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald.

To me, the reason that Dumbledore has the fame he has today is because of this event. Those of the older wizarding generation (people like Neville’s grandmother) who are now living under the fear of Voldemort, remember the terror of Grindelwald and look to Dumbledore as a beacon of hope and salvation. If this guy was the wizards’ version of Hitler, you know it took one gutsy Victor Laslow-type guy to bring him down (ten points to any one who knows who Victor Laslow is). That guy was Dumbledore.

Now everybody knows that Dumbledore took him down, but as I said, no one knows how. I believe that the key to that question was a huge motivator for Voldemort’s quest for glory.


The following is an excerpt from a theory I had a while back:

The Other Lost ProphecyAccording to the first chapter of Goblet of Fire, in 1944 a teenaged Tom Riddle returned to the Riddle House and murdered his father and grandparents. What struck me as interesting is that since Harry was born in 1980 (thank you, HP Lexicon) and the events of Book Four take place in 1994, the repetition of “half a century ago” and “fifty years ago” by JKR implicates 1944 as the year that Tom Riddle made his first true step along the dark path.

What is so special about it? To our knowledge, nothing. But the year 1945 is VERY crucial. It is the year Dumbledore defeated the dark wizard Grindelwald. That means, that in the wizarding world during 1944, the war between Dumbledore and Grindelwald was reaching its climax and would be over in less than a year: the same time that Tom Riddle was starting fully down the road of evil.

I am a believer that all actions are motivated, and that in Harry Potter, though we cannot see them, the wheels of the future are constantly in motion. I don’t think that Voldemort woke up one morning and said, “You know what, I wanna be evil from now on.” I don’t think it works like that. I think at some point during Tom Riddle’s research between the 1938-1939 school year when he started at Hogwarts and 1942-1943 school year when he released the Basilisk (again interesting real historical years), Voldemort came across a prophecy (one given perhaps by Sibyl Trelawney’s great-great grandmother, Cassandra Trelawney, though obviously that would be before Voldemort was born) which went something to this effect (THIS IS MY PROPHECY THAT I MADE UP!!! THIS IS JUST A THEORY!):

The great war of our time approaches its twilight and the Dark Lord shall fall at the hands of the Great One. But as this battle reaches its climax, the sun rises on the Heir of Slytherin who shall walk among us more powerful even than the Dark Lord himself. He will prove his worth by severing all ties to his Muggle parentage and begin a reign of terror the likes of which the world has never seen…

LET ME REITERATE THAT I MADE THIS UP!!! When one is dealing with prophecies, certain conditions have to be met in order for the reader to act accordingly. When I read GoF, I looked and looked but could find no real motivation for why Voldemort would NEED to kill his father other than to avenge his mother. Then I thought, what if he thought he was supposed to? As I said, I believe all actions are motivated. We do not know when Voldemort discovered that he was the Heir of Slytherin.

7/11/05 Addition: I have since theorized that it was probably the Sorting Hat who tipped him off that maybe he wasn’t just some average run-of-the-mill wizard. His mother didn’t tell him because she died in childbirth and he was raised in a Muggle orphanage. I think in researching his family tree he discovered he was the Heir of Slytherin. Being a Slytherin was probably cool enough for him, but to find out he was a blood relative of one of the school founders obviously made Tom Riddle feel doubly important and superior. Then let’s say he discovers this prophecy and a red flag goes off. Remember, every prophecy seems to have certain conditions to it. But if he saw a prophecy specifically about the Heir of Slytherin, he would know it would have to be about him. Or perhaps the prophecy is even older perhaps it was found IN THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS!!

The basic gist is that I believe it was foretold that Grindelwald was just the warm-up act compared to Voldemort. But more than that, there is something missing. Based on HP Lexicon‘s wonderful timeline as well as my own research, Voldemort’s ascension begins around the same time the Marauders start Hogwarts – somewhere around 1969-1970. “Tom Riddle” disappeared around 1945; the same time Grindelwald was defeated. Where was he for 25 years?

Studying. Like Batman, I think he was traveling the world learning absolutely everything about magic so that he could be unstoppable. He had to go through strenuous physical transformations (that’s one episode of “Extreme Makeover” that went horribly awry), what with the red lidless snake eyes and baldhead and such. These physical transformations are critical because NO ONE must be able to deduce that this persona Voldemort and the honor student Tom Riddle are the same dude.

He then went to study Grindelwald. The reason he studies Grindelwald is the same reason athletes study game footage: to find weaknesses. He had to discover why and how Dumbledore defeated him. In doing so, Dumbledore gained the reputation of being the most powerful wizard of all time. Voldemort was not about to be upstaged. I believe that Voldemort’s fixation with death stems from the fact that not only was Tom Riddle mortal, but Grindelwald, the baddest thing on two legs, for all his power, was still only mortal. In order to be the greatest, he had to discover where the former greatest went wrong.

Now this could all be conjecture and hearsay. But something makes me think that perhaps Voldemort had a prophecy about him relating to Grindelwald. I think he knew about the prophecy because he has been to the Department of Mysteries and heard his own prophecy for himself. Back in the days when he was still cool, smart, Hogwarts alum Tom Riddle, I think he straight walked into the Hall of Prophecies and asked if there were any about him. The reason I think it works that way is because the only people who can touch a prophecy are the people that it pertains to. If they aren’t allowed to touch it, how are people ever supposed to know about their prophecies? I think the Hall of Prophecies works like a rather selective library where you can only check out a book if it’s about you (because we all know what happens when you try to take one off the shelf if it isn’t about you).

Tom Riddle, in his missing twenty-five years, went to the Hall of Prophecies and asked to see the one about him. He knew because something in the Chamber of Secrets told him that there was a prophecy about the Heir of Slytherin (guys, I keep telling you, we’re not done with the Chamber of Secrets! I feel it in my loins!). He goes, checks out his prophecy, and learns everything.

This brings up another little nugget. It solidifies my theory that gaining the prophecy in Book Five was a red herring. Voldemort was told in Book Five by one of his minions that he would be able to remove the prophecy for Voldemort. Voldemort (by my theory) having only been there once would have been told to take only his prophecy though not necessarily that if you take someone else’s, it’ll scramble your brain. Having no evidence to the contrary, he sent his minions to retrieve it because he was told by someone who knows someone who knows someone who works at the Ministry. Such high caliber intel Voldemort is working with. But then what is his reaction? “I have wasted MONTHS on fruitless schemes, it seems… but no matter…(585, OotP)” NO MATTER! NO MATTER! You could have solved this problem 300 pages ago!!! Either Voldemort is the most patient would-be dictator in history, or something is definitely up. Voldemort knew exactly where everything was in the Ministry (granted, many of the DEs work there). He knew where to be and he knew how to get his Death Eaters in. Something’s fishy.

We’ll deal with more of these musings. Tune in soon for four of five and remember that the wheels are in motion!