What happened fifty years ago?
When the tombstone photo from Goblet of Fire appeared a few weeks ago with glaring canon errors, I started to wonder how sure we could be of the dates of events that happened, according to the books, “fifty years ago.” New information was included in Half-Blood Prince, so I decided it was time to redo the timelines and make sure everything was correct. Fortunately, most of what was published in the timeline was correct. However, there is one major revision that was necessary. The murders of the Riddles in their house in Little Hangleton was now specifically noted as taking place during the summer of Tom Riddle’s sixteenth year, which would be the summer he was fifteen. Here, then, is the chart showing the events of Tom Riddle’s life. I’ve also included Hagrid’s timeline for clarification.
NOTE: The events on this timeline could be moved a year or two in either direction and not violate canon. There are two events described as happening “fifty years ago, Tom Riddle’s murder of his parents (fifty years before 1944) and Hagrid’s expulsion from Hogwarts (fifty years before 1943).
|Tom Riddle||school year
|age in Sept/Dec||Rubeus Hagrid||school year
|age in Sept/Dec||Other events|
|1927||–||–||0/1||–||–||–||Fantastic Beasts first published|
|1931||–||–||4/5||Fridwulfa, Hagrid’s mother, abandons her family||–||2/3|
|1932||–||–||5/6||–||3/4||The Ilfracombe Incident|
|1935||–||–||8/9||–||6/7||first Atlantic broom crossing|
|1936||–||–||9/10||–||7/8||McGonagall starts Hogwarts in September|
visit from Dumbledore to Riddle in the orphanageSept – start Hogwarts
sorted into Slytherin
|-/1||11/12||–||9/10||Known staff at Hogwarts:
Dippet, Dumbledore, Slughorn
|1939||in 2nd year –
hears about the Chamber of Secrets and is determined to open it
|1940||hears about CoS (cont to June)||2/3||13/14||Sept – starts Hogwarts
sorted into Gryffindor
|1941||3/4||14/15||father dies between September and June of next year||1/2||12/13|
|1942||summer – travels to Little Hangleton to seek out his relatives in the “summer of his 16th year” (p340)made Prefect||4/5||15/16||father dies before end of June||2/3||13/14||deaths of the Riddles in Little Hangleton, blamed on Morphin Gaunt|
|1943||Learns of Horcruxes from Slughorn (sometime during 1943)late spring – Chamber of Secrets opened, Myrtle killed by basilisk
begins constructing the diary horcrux (putting his “sixteen-year-old self” into it)
|5/6||16/17||June – expelled||3/-||14/15|
|1945||leaves school||7/-||18/19||–||16/17||Dumbledore defeats Grindelwald|
“And Father won’t tell me anything about the last time the Chamber was opened either. Of course, it was fifty years ago, so it was before his time, but he knows all about it, and he says that it was all kept quiet and it’ll look suspicious if I know too much about it.”
Harry saw at once that it was a diary, and the faded year on the cover told him it was fifty years old. He opened it eagerly. On the first page he could just make out the name “T M. Riddle” in smudged ink.
“Hang on,” said Ron, who had approached cautiously and was looking over Harry’s shoulder. “I know that name …. T. M. Riddle got an award for special services to the school fifty years ago.”
“Well, the Chamber of Secrets was opened fifty years ago, wasn’t it?” he said. “That’s what Malfoy said.”
“Yeah. . .” said Ron slowly.
“And this diary is fifty years old,” said Hermione, tapping it excitedly.
“Oh, Ron, wake up,” snapped Hermione. “We know the person who opened the Chamber last time was expelled fifty years ago. We know T. M. Riddle got an award for special services to the school fifty years ago. Well, what if Riddle got his special award for catching the Heir of Slytherin? His diary would probably tell us everything – where the Chamber is, and how to open it, and what sort of creature lives in it – the person who’s behind the attacks this time wouldn’t want that lying around, would they?”
Harry looked around the office. No Fawkes the phoenix – no whirring silver contraptions. This was Hogwarts as Riddle had known it, meaning that this unknown wizard was Headmaster, not Dumbledore, and he, Harry, was little more than a phantom, completely invisible to the people of fifty years ago.
“It was Hagrid, Ron. Hagrid opened the Chamber of Secrets fifty years ago.”
Harry stared at him. Tom Riddle had been at Hogwarts fifty years ago, yet here he stood, a weird, misty light shining about him, not a day older than sixteen.
“Are you a ghost?” Harry said uncertainly.
“A memory,” said Riddle quietly. “Preserved in a diary for fifty years.”
“It was this diary,” said Harry quickly, picking it up and showing it to Dumbledore. “Riddle wrote it when he was sixteen . . . .”
Dumbledore took the diary from Harry and peered keenly down his long, crooked nose at its burnt and soggy pages.
“Brilliant,” he said softly. “Of course, he was probably the most brilliant student Hogwarts has ever seen.” He turned around to the Weasleys, who were looking utterly bewildered.
“Very few people know that Lord Voldemort was once called Tom Riddle. I taught him myself, fifty years ago, at Hogwarts. He disappeared after leaving the school … traveled far and wide … sank so deeply into the Dark Arts, consorted with the very worst of our kind, underwent so many dangerous, magical transformations, that when he resurfaced as Lord Voldemort, he was barely recognizable. Hardly anyone connected Lord Voldemort with the clever, handsome boy who was once Head Boy here.”
The Little Hagletons all agreed that the old house was “creepy.” Half a century ago, something strange and horrible had happened there, something that the older inhabitants of the village still liked to discuss when topics for gossip were scarce. The story had been picked over so many times, and had been embroidered in so many places, that nobody was quite sure what the truth was anymore. Every version of the tale, however, started in the same place: Fifty years before, at daybreak on a fine summer’s morning when the Riddle House had still been well kept and impressive, a maid had entered the drawing room to find all three Riddles dead.
The maid had run screaming down the hill into the village and roused as many people as she could.
Ron fell asleep almost immediately, but Harry delved into his trunk and pulled out his copy of Advanced Potion-Making before getting into bed. There he turned its pages, searching, until he finally found, at the front of the book, the date that it had been published. It was nearly fifty years old. Neither his father, nor his father’s friends, had been at Hogwarts fifty years ago.
“I am here following a serious breach of Wizarding law, which occurred here in the early hours of this morning -”
“Well, Mr. Gaunt,” said Ogden, “to get straight to the point, we have reason to believe that your son, Morfin, performed magic in front of a Muggle late last night.”
I am here because of Morfin, Morfin and the Muggle he accosted late last night. Our information” – he glanced down at his scroll of parchment – “is that Morfin performed a jinx or hex on the said Muggle, causing him to erupt in highly painful hives.”
“What happened to the girl in the cottage?” said Harry at once, as Dumbledore lit extra lamps with a flick of his wand. “Merope, or whatever her name was?”
“Oh, she survived,” said Dumbledore, reseating himself behind his desk and indicating that Harry should sit down too. “Ogden Apparated back to the Ministry and returned with reinforcements within fifteen minutes. Morfin and his father attempted to fight, but both were overpowered, removed from the cottage, and subsequently convicted by the Wizengamot. Morfin, who already had a record of Muggle attacks, was sentenced to three years in Azkaban. Marvolo, who had injured several Ministry employees in addition to Ogden, received six months.”
I do not believe that her magical powers appeared to their best advantage when she was being terrorized by her father. Once Marvolo and Morfin were safely in Azkaban, once she was alone and free for the first time in her life, then, I am sure, she was able to give full rein to her abilities and to plot her escape from the desperate life she had led for eighteen years.”
“Can you not think of any measure Merope could have taken to make Tom Riddle forget his Muggle companion, and fall in love with her instead?”
“The Imperius Curse?” Harry suggested. “Or a love potion?”
“Very good. Personally, I am inclined to think that she used a love potion. I am sure it would have seemed more romantic to her, and I do not think it would have been very difficult, some hot day, when Riddle was riding alone, to persuade him to take a drink of water. In any case, within a few months of the scene we have just witnessed, the village of Little Hangleton enjoyed a tremendous scandal. You can imagine the gossip it caused when the squire’s son ran off with the tramp’s daughter, Merope.”
“But the villagers’ shock was nothing to Marvolo’s. He returned from Azkaban, expecting to find his daughter dutifully awaiting his return with a hot meal ready on his table. Instead, he found a clear inch of dust and her note of farewell, explaining what she had done.”
“From all that I have been able to discover, he never mentioned her name or existence from that time forth. The shock of her desertion may have contributed to his early death – or perhaps he had simply never learned to feed himself. Azkaban had greatly weakened Marvolo, and he did not live to see Morfin return to the cottage.”
“And Merope? She … she died, didn’t she? Wasn’t Voldemort brought up in an orphanage?”
“Yes, indeed,” said Dumbledore. “We must do a certain amount of guessing here, although I do not think it is difficult to deduce what happened. You see, within a few months of their runaway marriage, Tom Riddle reappeared at the manor house in Little Hangleton without his wife. The rumor flew around the neighborhood that he was talking of being ‘hoodwinked’ and ‘taken in.’ What he meant, I am sure, is that he had been under an enchantment that had now lifted, though I daresay he did not dare use those precise words for fear of being thought insane. When they heard what he was saying, however, the villagers guessed that Merope had lied to Tom Riddle, pretending that she was going to have his baby, and that he had married her for this reason.”
“But she did have his baby.”
“But not until a year after they were married. Tom Riddle left her while she was still pregnant.”
“What went wrong?” asked Harry. “Why did the love potion stop working?”
“Again, this is guesswork,” said Dumbledore, “but I believe that Merope, who was deeply in love with her husband, could not bear to continue enslaving him by magical means. I believe that she made the choice to stop giving him the potion. Perhaps, besotted as she was, she had convinced herself that he would by now have fallen in love with her in return. Perhaps she thought he would stay for the baby’s sake. If so, she was wrong on both counts. He left her, never saw her again, and never troubled to discover what became of his son.”
This timeline was created with the information available to fans in 2005, so it is not completely accurate, The impetus for it came from Warner Bros publishing the following publicity photo during production of the Goblet of Fire film:
The names and years on the tombstone were clearly incorrect according to canon and fans spotted it immediately. WB made corrections in post-production and the final version of the tombstone looked like this:
This timeline showed that the dates were actually still wrong.