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Harry Potter Theory: The Moaning Myrtle Mystery

Filipe is a big Harry Potter fan. He has read all the books and seen all the movies numerous times.

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.

If you enjoyed this article, you may want to read my other article on the mystery of the love room in the Department of Mysteries.


Annie Poe from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India on June 29, 2020:

Wow, that really is an interesting theory. I never really formed this connection while reading the books.

Filipe Baião (author) from Lisbon on January 15, 2020:

I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. I haven't posted a lot related with Harry Potter recently, but I plan on coming back to it when I find something worth commenting on.

Nik Farr Havock from United States of America on December 03, 2019:

I one, never thought about how Riddle should have disguised the attack. Two it never occured to me that her death could have been a fluke. Somehow I thought that he had been attempting to kill people, it didn't work out the way he had hoped. She passed, he knew he would be caught or would have to go back to the orphanage. Decided nah, framed Hagrid so he would never be caught. The end and a tiny little bow.

Not once did anything else cross my mind. So thanks for that.

J Zod from Nairobi on September 13, 2019:

Hi Filipe,

I am so happy to have come across your article.It has been 20 years since I first read the Harry Potter novel. The story introduced me to the world of magic and to the world of reading.

I also though that the death of Moaning Myrtle was mysterious. It might have been accidental. Tom Riddle might have been surprised by hearing her voice from the bathroom.

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on July 20, 2019:

Great article. Your articles filled in some of the gaps for me regarding this Potter book. Great write up.

Edward G Gordon from Northern Ireland on April 06, 2019:

Sometimes it's best not to examine a plotline too closely. All too often the holes begin to appear. Moaning Myrtle is one of those holes.

Even so, Harry Potter is still one of the best plotted novel series I've ever had the pleasure to read. Holes and all.

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on November 13, 2018:

I love both the books and the movies. I also wondered how no one every que4stioned what happened to Moaning Myrtle.

zhuj on November 01, 2018:

Where can I download the Chinese version of the dream of red mansions? Please contact me at

Cherri Jaramillo on October 22, 2018:

I rather enjoyed reading your thought process behind Myrtle's death, and the reasoning behind why the Chamber of Secrets or the monster, itself, were not discovered long before Harry Potter's time.

I would like to point out that 50 years is quite a long time, and Dumbledore was only a teacher back then. He was likely not privy to all of the information a Head Master is. Parseltongue was, as I recall, a very rare gift. I cannot imagine that many would have known much about it except those that had the ability.

In regards to the Basilisk, they can petrify or kill, certainly. The petrifying, if not cured within a timely manner, I believe was lethal...and of course, the venom of the Basilisk kills within moments, but I don't recall any proof that Tom Riddle actually created the Chamber of Secrets, he merely opened it. Which means the Chamber was likely created, upon the initial building of Hogwarts, by a previous Parselmouth. Hence the snake engraving on the sink. Now, I'm not quite certain if the Basilisk was entrapped down there then, or if Tom Riddle put another down there when he'd opened the Chamber, but either is plausible. I tend to side with the ideal that the Basilisk was already down there, and Tom had heard it in the walls like Harry had, and that lead him to seek out the entrance.

Now, if I am correct, Dumbledore likely would not have thought anything of the snake on the sink because it's always been there as Hogwarts was created by the four house leaders. He also would not have been able to hear the Basilisk in the walls because he doesn't speak parseltongue. Myrtle's description of how she died did not give many clues, because in a world of magic, there are a number of creatures with glowing, yellow eyes that could have gotten in and accidentally killed her. Take, for example, the fully grown mountain troll that was let in. If Myrtle didn't know Tom Riddle well, she likely would not have recognized his voice as the boy's voice who'd come into the girl's bathroom on that floor.

My theory is that if Myrtle's death was not an accident, Tom Riddle, like any other criminal mind seeking power, escalated. He got far too comfortable, and bored with the petrifying and decided to take the plunge into the next step. So he used the Basilisk to commit his first murder, and this was just the springboard into the horrible things he would do in the future.

If Myrtle's death was an accident, I agree, it was likely that she surprised Tom in the bathroom because this was not a bathroom that was frequently used, right? Then, of course, realizing he could get away with murder, well...this would escalate him into a God-like mentality. He would begin to believe he was invincible.

The real mystery is...what is the secret in the Chamber of Secrets? Is it merely that Hogwarts was homing a Basilisk and didn't realize it? After all, the horcruxes didn't exist until Tom Riddle made them. The only way to make a horcrux is to break your soul into pieces, and place each piece in some sort of object. The only way to break your soul into pieces is to murder someone. Maybe Myrtle was simply the first step for Tom Riddle to create his horcruxes so that he could, indeed, be invincible.

Filipe Baião (author) from Lisbon on April 24, 2018:

That is a good point. I guess JK just hopes you'll assume that Myrtle was off somewhere else everytime Ginny entered the Chamber ahah.

Dina AH from United States on March 12, 2018:

Part of me assumes that Tom Riddle, while struggling with some serious psychological issues, was not necessarily intending on killing Myrtle. How quickly he'd slipped into a state of frenzied violence is something I think of often, especially when examining Bellatrix Lestrange's reputation. Anyway, I feel like Harry knew, all along, that it's not very wise to share his own visions and hearing things with Dumbledore. I love Dumbledore and all, but he certainly wasn't the most receptive to Harry's pleas for help in Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore has reasons for being suspicious of Harry in general. There is just too much in common between him and Tom Riddle.

Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on December 24, 2017:

I always wondered why Myrtle never saw Ginny leaving or entering the chamber when she spends all her time in that bathroom.

Filipe Baião (author) from Lisbon on January 03, 2017:

I always had that problem with Dumbledore too. No matter how he or Harry justified his actions, they always seemed to fall short of an actual reason why Harry and friends had to do everything, again. But I suppose my suspension os disbelief was willing to go that far and just accept it. I can see why that would frustrate anyone. So don't worry about it, and once again, thank you so much for reading

Another on December 27, 2016:

After re-reading, I can see that my reply share a lot of my disapointment more than I wanted to begin with, sorry, I ended replying to this article after a little ranting about everything that didn't make sense imo in the whole universe, and it ended to transpire in the reply.

As a "mystery genre" (which I love, as much as fantasy genre and a mix of the two), the author correctly clued in the reader to make the answers attainable even at first reading (and maybe a bit too obvious for reader who are genre-savvy, but I guess that not supposed to be the case of most of the demographic age the author aimed at), and in this way I also enjoyed alot the book both for what it offered and the potential it could have offered (and movie too, it was a good balance of action and character exposition for the young casts). It is also my favourite among the 7, the universe was expanded in a more dynamic way (the 1st book needed the exposition but it looked a bit too static), we got a house-elf, flying car, a boxing tree, parselmouth, duelling club, Valentine's day, crazy teacher, polyjuice potion, a basilisk, a phoenix, the hat and the sword, possession, a magical diary, and the introduction of Weasley&Malfoy fathers which ended with the most stupid brawl adults could end up, yes it was very entertaining and thus deserve a good ranking !

But when I take the book as a continuity of the first and the second to next 5 others, to build the universe, and characters along, it became more and more frustrating to read it and never see the character's moral truly challenged because of their actions (I'm looking at you Dumbledore !). But I now accept the fact that Dumbledore was probably aware of everything but just stepped back and let Harry and his friends take each challenges in preparation for the war (like it was also acknowledged by Harry himself in PS/SS at the end, in the infirmary, so I can't really fault the author too). That the only way to explain everything from 1 to 7 books in term of individual choices, and make Dumbledore a rather unsavory character in restrospective.

I didn't read the article you mention, OP, but I will give it a read as soon as possible, I appreciate to see the HP community still alive even after all this time !

PS : English isn't my native tongue sorry for the mistakes (I saw many in my previous comment too)

Filipe Baião (author) from Lisbon on December 26, 2016:

You raise a fair point. While it's within the realm of possibility to assume that Dumbledore never found the snake in the sink, there is no reason he should not have concluded that a Basilisk was the monster. While we have to remember that all conclusions seem obvious in hindsight, there was still practically no room for error in this case, with so many clues and it being Dumbledore of all people. While the holes in the CoS plot never took me out of the story, I can see where you're coming from with all of them, but, if you read my top Harry Potter movies article, you'll see that I still prefer this story over any of the others, so I'm somewhat biased. Thank you for the comment.

Another on December 24, 2016:

If Dumbledore really heard Myrtle's testimony of her death, he would have been even more distrust of Aragog's responsability (Acromantula are described with eight-black eyes or white-eyes if blind, far from "big yellow pair of eyes" described by Myrtle) and of Riddle's testimony (and since the denunciation would benefit him personaly...). And with veritaserum couldn't they come to a conclusion about everything ? The corruption of some people in high place could explain, but it would mean that Dumbledore wasn't powerful enought to counter this corruption for this case (seriously, I doubt) and Riddle powerful enought to already have built powerful relations net beneficial for him (I can somehow believe it).

To be honest, I find the whole CoS plot to be a real mess. Why "Chamber of SecretS" (plurial, what are the other secrets ?) would contain a monster with a capacity to kill at sight indiscriminally (and so, making eye-contact by mistake pretty easy and too dangerous for a monster supposed to stroll ad attack speficied targets. Plus its too big and noticeable...normally) and how does it don't work with the "Heir", neither Ginny, but will work with pretty everyone else ? I could have believed such monster as a guardian restricting access to the room (and therefore what will it guard in the end ?), not to be unleashed in the school to the whim of someone that wouldn't necessarily follow Salazar wishes (whatever it was, we never had the whole story from the founders pov so frustrating). That makes no sense at all and force characters to be depicted very foolish and uncaring from students to teacher to Ministry to Myrtle's parents to the "heroes" whom never try to understand anything/anyone and reach for outside their self-interests by asking questions and taking interest into other lifes for example. Is the author so uncaring and foolish herself that she can't depict at least one character seeking and reaching for some good deeds in her world ?

And seriously, Salazar monster+parselmouth+snake emblem+death like AK state(or "petrification" like Medusa's snake symbolism)+killing of the roosters+disappearance of spiders+Harry parselmouth=?? one (not even Dumbledore) suspect something like a Basilic and Riddle's reappearance throught possession by proxy,really ? Ok, maybe Hogwarts should really have closed seen that adults sounds very unknowledgeable and incompetents, because even a child have guessed it.

About either Myrtle's death was accidental or planned, I voted accidental based on the story fact of her death (too quickly, right in front of the Chamber's entrance when it was opened), thought it could be either way, because nothing is really explained for this murder in particular, thought I'm sure that from Riddle speech in the Chamber, killing her by mistake or not wouldn't faze him too much.