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Harry Potter Theory: The Moaning Myrtle Mystery

Why did Myrtle have to die? Why did it take Dumbledore so long to find the Chamber of Secrets and realise the monster was a basilisk? I share my theories.

Why did Myrtle have to die? Why did it take Dumbledore so long to find the Chamber of Secrets and realise the monster was a basilisk? I share my theories.

The Mysteries of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

At its core, Chamber of Secrets has a very intriguing mystery that haunts the characters as well as the readers throughout the book:

  • Where is the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets?
  • Who is the Heir of Slytherin?
  • What lies within the chamber?

Moaning Myrtle Has the Answers

Harry and Ron realise late in the story that the key to these questions lies with a character who has been right in front of them the whole time: the ghost Moaning Myrtle. It's through the story of her death that they are able to uncover the truth of the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, which is in the girls' bathroom. Of course, they never would have been able to unlock the entrance without Harry's ability to speak Parseltongue, which was what led Hermione to figure out that the monster inside the Chamber was a basilisk.

Harry and Ron only decided to interrogate Myrtle after they deduced that she had been the mortal victim of the monster when the Chamber was opened 50 years prior. They deduced this because they learned from Aragog that the victim was a girl found in a bathroom. But there are at least two people who know that Myrtle was the victim, and neither one managed to solve the mystery before Harry did.

Why Didn't Hagrid or Dumbledore Solve the Mystery First?

Those two people are Hagrid and, of course, Dumbledore. Hagrid would know who he was accused of murdering, and Dumbledore would know it was Myrtle because he taught at Hogwarts at the time. Dumbledore even vouched for Hagrid, believing in his innocence, which is what allowed him to stay at Hogwarts and work on the grounds, something for which Hagrid was forever grateful.

After Myrtle's murder, Dumbledore became wary of Tom Riddle, as after his arrest of Hagrid, the attacks stopped. We don't know how Tom justified his discovery of Hagrid and Aragog, but since Dumbledore became suspicious of him, we can deduce that Dumbledore was not convinced; there had to be something else.

Of course, Riddle later became Voldemort. Even if he did not have confirmation, this should have led Dumbledore to be almost certain that it had been Riddle who had murdered Myrtle.

What Did Dumbledore Know About Myrtle's Death?

And yet the mystery remained: How had Myrtle died, and where was the Chamber of Secrets? Dumbledore had no idea. Readers may wonder, "Why did Dumbledore never ask Myrtle how she died?" Well, he probably did. Let's take a look at Myrtle's story and see what Dumbledore could have deduced.

"Ooooh, it was dreadful, it happened right in here, in this very cubicle. I'd hidden because Olive Hornby was teasing me about my glasses. I was crying, and then I heard somebody come in. They said something in a different language but what surprised me was that it was a boy speaking. So I opened the door to tell him to use his own bathroom and then, I died. [...] I just remember seeing two big yellow eyes, my body freezing up, and suddenly I felt like I was floating."

— Moaning Myrtle ("Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" by J.K. Rowling)

What Dumbledore Should Have Known From Myrtle's Story

Now, just by knowing Myrtle's story (which you can read above), I reckon Dumbledore would have come to some conclusions:

  • The killer was a monster. First of all, the legend of the Chamber features a monster, so despite having no confirmation, Dumbledore could assume the monster had been the true killer—especially with the detail of the big yellow eyes, which would probably indicate a non-human attacker.
  • The Heir was a boy who controlled the monster. Dumbledore could then surmise that both the Heir and the monster were in the room. Based on Myrtle's story, the Heir was a boy, and he spoke and probably controlled the monster in a different language.
  • The Chamber entrance was (probably) in the bathroom. The story does not make it 100% clear that the entrance is in the bathroom. Maybe Dumbledore should've found the snake in the sink, but maybe not.
  • The yellow eyes make it less likely that Aragog was the killer. The most mysterious part is the detail of the eyes, and here's why: A victim of the basilisk's stare probably wouldn't have any bruises, but Riddle would need to make it look as though Aragog, an Acromantula, was the murderer. Surely a giant spider wouldn't leave an unmarked body behind! Since we don't hear any differently in the book, we can assume that Myrtle's body had no physical marks of attack. It would look like she had been hit by an Avada Kedavra, but the detail of the yellow eyes and the hint of a monster would point Dumbledore towards a different answer.

What Did Myrtle's Body Look Like?

On the last point, we don't know what the state of Myrtle's body was when it was found. Riddle could have ordered the basilisk to mangle her a little to stage the crime scene. However, we don't know that from the book, and it's probably something that J.K. Rowling never thought about.

Harry, Ron and Hermione figure out that the monster is a basilisk much faster than Dumbledore does.

Harry, Ron and Hermione figure out that the monster is a basilisk much faster than Dumbledore does.

Why Dumbledore Didn't Figure It Out

So knowing all of this, it is possible that Dumbledore could have figured out the monster was a basilisk, if he connected the eyes with the unbruised body and the fact that the symbol of Slytherin is a snake (which also points to Parseltongue being the language needed to control the monster).

On the other hand, he could have also figured out that the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets was in the sink, if he asked Myrtle where she had seen the eyes—and if he looked closely enough. When he saw the snake, that would be another clue that the monster was snake-like and that the language to enter was Parseltongue.

Dumbledore's Clues and Conclusions

But, of course, Dumbledore would never have been able to enter, since he doesn't speak Parseltongue. I also doubt he knew that the monster was a basilisk, since there are no hints of that, plus it would be super irresponsible for him to know and not tell anyone.

He also probably didn't know about the entrance, since even after everyone discovers that Harry is a Parselmouth, he still does nothing. It's possible that he knew about the entrance but did not know that Parseltongue was the password, but that would rely on him completely disregarding the snake in the sink.

So we can assume Dumbledore never found anything in the sink and didn't know the basilisk was the monster. Reader might then ask, "Isn't Dumbledore super smart? How come he couldn't figure this out but Harry, Ron and Hermione could?"

The Missing Clue That Harry, Ron and Hermione Had

Well, the trio of kids had a clue that Dumbledore lacked, and that is that Harry could hear something inside the walls. That's probably what led Hermione to look for a snake-like creature, as well as how she concluded that the basilisk roamed the castle via the pipes. It was also a hint that the bathroom was an ideal place for the entrance, as it had plenty of access to the school's sewer system.

Ultimately, this means that Harry could have spared himself and the students and faculty of Hogwarts a lot of trouble by just telling Dumbledore that he—and he alone—had heard a mysterious voice talking about killing near the attack sites. For Dumbledore, that would've been the final piece of the puzzle through which he could determine that the monster was a basilisk, that it roamed through the pipes, and that the bathroom was the entrance.

Is it possible that the Heir of Slytherin didn't mean to kill Myrtle?

Is it possible that the Heir of Slytherin didn't mean to kill Myrtle?

Did Riddle Really Mean to Kill Myrtle?

Finally, I would like to touch on a small point that is related to the circumstances of Myrtle's death. There are several references to multiple attacks during Riddle's time as the Heir, but there's only one record of a death: Myrtle's. This means one of two things: Either we're dealing with two very strange chains of coincidences that led to multiple petrifications but no deaths, or Riddle never desired to kill any of his victims when he was 15.

I don't know of a way for someone to be attacked by a basilisk and not die or be petrified, as a basilisk's bite is lethal, so if Riddle's first victims did not die, he probably planned the attacks so that the victims would only be petrified. But then comes Myrtle's death, which screws up this logic—or does it?

Keep in mind that, after Myrtle's death, Riddle faces going back to his orphanage, never to return to Hogwarts, which is something he badly does not want. It's what motivates him to frame Hagrid. Why, then, would he order Myrtle's death if he knows it might lead to his expulsion from Hogwarts?

Myrtle Was in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

My guess is that Myrtle's death was an accident. Riddle went into the bathroom, thinking no one was inside. He opened the Chamber, either to go inside or to send the basilisk on another non-fatal attack, but when Myrtle told him to use his own bathroom, he realised he couldn't let her live because she had seen the entrance. So, he ordered the basilisk to kill her.

The Harry Potter books are full of mysteries for readers to ponder.

The Harry Potter books are full of mysteries for readers to ponder.

What's Your Theory About Moaning Myrtle and the Chamber?

So these are my thoughts on the death of Moaning Myrtle and the mystery of the Chamber of Secrets. Go ahead and leave your thoughts in the comments below if you agree or disagree with me. As always, thank you for reading.