Tom Riddle. The name inspires almost as much fear as Lord Voldemort and yet there is something else; a sense of convoluted strangeness that slithers along behind him.

Tom Riddle looking menacing in a Slughorn's Office
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Almost everything he did – from hiding the Horcruxes, to the friends he made – seemed to have purpose. Did he ever do anything that wasn’t meticulously planned? What was behind some of the choices he made on the road to becoming Voldemort? Here we ask, was Tom always a riddle?

The diary

The first time Tom Riddle’s name was mentioned was in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Harry and Ron found a diary with the name ‘T. M. Riddle’ written in smudged ink. The pages were empty, soggy and without a trace of writing.

This was the first time that a Horcrux appeared in the story (well, apart from Harry), although we didn’t know it at the time. What made it even stranger was that the diary itself was bought from a Muggle newsagent on Vauxhall Road in London.

When Harry was pulled into the diary, he was transported to a conversation between Tom and Hogwarts headmaster Professor Dippet where Tom’s desperation to stay at the school over the summer rather than go back to the orphanage is in every word and clenched hand. It appears as though this is what caused Tom to frame Hagrid and close the Chamber of Secrets the first time.

Still, Tom wasn’t going to waste all that time he spent finding the Chamber, so he left behind a diary designed to entrance and manipulate an innocent soul. All this so he could finish Salazar Slytherin’s work.

In hindsight we might wonder, why would Tom Riddle, a hater of Muggles and Muggle-borns, choose a Muggle object for such an extraordinary spell? Maybe because it was an accessible and seemingly innocuous object, or perhaps a way for him to acknowledge his half-blood heritage. There’s certainly an irony in his veneration of Slytherin, as Tom himself is not pure-blood.

Tom Riddle's Diary the destroyed Horcrux
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Riddle roots

The next time we heard the name Riddle was when Lord Voldemort settled into the deserted and dusty Riddle House in Little Hangleton. Why would he choose to hide out in the house of the Muggles he so detested and killed 50 years before, and not in the hovel where his pure-blood grandfather had lived and died?

Perhaps it was because the Riddle House was the last place anyone would think to look. Or it could be because he preferred a splash of comfort to the, let’s face it, revolting mess that was the Gaunts’ shack.

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry is witness to Lord Voldemort coming into his power once again and is held by tight cords against Tom Riddle Sr’s grave. The spell to revive Voldemort included bone of the father, unknowingly given. It may have frustrated the Dark Lord, on some level, that his Muggle father was part of his resurrection.

The Riddle House and graveyard from the Order of the Pheonix
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The Horcruxes

Tom’s need to collect things is perhaps the most normal quirk he has, yet he manages to make it creepy. The box hidden in his closet at the orphanage was filled with trinkets, chosen and stolen because they meant something to the other children.

The Horcruxes held some meaning for him (Marvolo Gaunt’s ring) or had meaning to the wizarding community as a whole (Ravenclaw’s diadem and Helga Hufflepuff’s cup).

His followers are things in a way too: marked, monitored and controlled using the Dark Mark. Tom’s need to control seems to drive his choices and his life. He’s shaped by cruelty and twisted by darkness.

Every decision and every conversation with Tom Riddle shows a mind sharp with brilliance and darkness. He is compelling and completely in control – until he meets his match in Harry, of course.

Illustration of Slytherin's locket Horcrux
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1