A Message from Beyond the Grave
I almost hate to do this.
It’s not that I didn’t love Dumbledore. I am devoted to him through and through.
It’s not that I want people to give up on making theories about what happened to Dumbledore and how that will affect the rest of the story. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing a wider variety of ideas. It can be fun to think of this stuff! When reading through “Dumbledore is alive” theories, I was surprised I wasn’t running across ideas along the lines of “there’s a secret passageway under the white tomb” or “Dumbledore bewitched Molly’s knitting needles so Harry’s next Christmas sweater will have a secret message woven in.”
I’m writing this because I think most of the current theories of Dumbledore being alive are something worse than farfetched or overly optimistic– they’re not very well argued. You can consider this a debunking or constructive criticism. Either way, I’ll make a deal with you. Hang in here with me through all my counter-arguments to the idea that Dumbledore faked his death. (It’s not the shortest read, but it seemed safer to be thorough considering how good the “Dumbledore is alive” folks are at finding loopholes.) If you make it to the end, you’ll find my own little theory. It may not be the type that brings Dumbledore back, but it is on the hopeful side.
Since splitting things into sevens is all the rage, I’ve broken my debunking/criticism into seven parts: the Vow, the spell, the cure, the body, the funeral, the secret, and the reason.
Snape made an Unbreakable Vow with three parts. The third question Narcissa asked at the time was: “And, should it prove necessary… if it seems Draco will fail… will you carry out the deed that the Dark Lord has ordered him to perform?” Snape vowed that he would.
“The deed that the Dark Lord has ordered him to perform” was not, as some have suggested, simply to fix the Vanishing Cabinet or sneak Death Eaters into the school. Narcissa came crying to Snape because she was afraid for Draco’s life– a major overreaction if all Voldemort wanted was for Draco to take up furniture repair. Narcissa even sobbed, “But he won’t succeed! How can he, when the Dark Lord himself–?” before Bellatrix interrupted her. Narcissa backtracked, but it was obvious she was about to say Draco’s mission was something that the Dark Lord himself had failed at. Any mission as small as sneaking Death Eaters into Hogwarts seems too trivial for Voldemort to personally attempt (and to fail at, no less!), but we know that he tried and failed to kill Dumbledore. Furthermore, Dumbledore said, “You have been trying, with increasing desperation, to kill me all year. Forgive me, Draco, but they have been feeble attempts…. So feeble, to be honest, that I wonder whether your heart has been really in it.” Draco confirmed that was his goal, replying, “It has been in it! I’ve been working on it all year…” To top it all off, Amycus the Death Eater shouted, “I don’t even know why the Dark Lord’s bothering to kill yer [Dumbledore]! Come on, Draco, do it!”Draco’s mission was to kill Dumbledore.
It looked like Draco couldn’t bring himself to go through with it, though. He stalled instead of killing Dumbledore when he had the chance, and even Harry thought he saw Draco begin to lower his wand. When Snape arrived on the scene, Amycus promptly announced, “We’ve got a problem, Snape; the boy doesn’t seem able–” It seemed Draco would fail.
If you break an Unbreakable Vow, you die. If Dumbledore’s death was faked, that means Snape broke his vow to kill Dumbledore if it seemed Draco would fail. If Dumbledore isn’t dead, Snape shouldn’t be alive.
Is it possible that Snape “faked” or “cheated” the Unbreakable Vow? Yes, I’ll grant you that it is (because I can’t prove otherwise). Of course, Bellatrix wouldn’t have been surprised that Snape was willing to make the Unbreakable Vow if it was easy to get out of. If Snape did avoid the consequences of the Vow, it must have been through some very difficult or obscure means. Now, if that were the only leap of faith required in the “Dumbledore isn’t dead” scenario, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Unfortunately, it’s just the first of many such leaps. The more of those you make, the more likely it is that you’ll fall.
Hey, speaking of falling– what was with that Avada Kedavra spell Snape used on Dumbledore? It blasted the poor guy up into the air and made him fall off the Astronomy Tower. We’ve never seen an Avada Kedavra work that way before.
On the other hand, we haven’t seen a lot of Avada Kedavras. If I’m not mistaken, our knowledge of what the Avada Kedavra does when performed on a human by an adult wizard at full strength (i.e., not an ugly, baby-like thing) comes from just two other instances. One is when Peter Pettigrew killed Cedric; the other is when Voldemort attacked the Potters. Pettigrew seems to be less powerful than Snape and his Avada Kedavra simply made Cedric fall to the ground (though he might have been lifted slightly first– Harry had his eyes closed). Voldemort seems to be more powerful than Snape and his Avada Kedavra (the one that rebounded off of Harry) apparently destroyed a house. The effect of an Avada Kedavra may be related to the power of the wizard who performs it. I can’t prove this, of course– it’s just an alternative to the “Snape said ‘Avada Kedavra’ aloud while silently performing some sort of green-glowy levitation spell” theories.
Actually, I think Dumbledore wasn’t knocked off the tower by the spell so much as by the story. Remember the thestrals? JKR said she knew that thestrals were pulling the carriages all along, but decided not to let Harry see them at the end of GoF because she didn’t feel it was a good time to introduce them. She retrofitted a logical explanation to the scenario (Harry couldn’t see thestrals until Cedric’s death really sank in) and saved revealing the thestrals for when it made sense story-wise.
I think Dumbledore fell off the tower because if he hadn’t, it would have interrupted the flow of the story. Imagine Dumbledore had simply crumpled to the floor. When Harry unfroze, his first reaction probably would have been to check on Dumbledore instead of chasing Snape. But Harry had to chase Snape– there were things we still needed to hear from the Half-Blood Prince’s own mouth. Additionally, Harry would have either found the counterfeit locket sooner than needed for maximum dramatic impact or would have had to inspect the body a second time. JKR may have also wanted Dumbledore to fall over the ramparts because she was essentially recreating the Tower tarot card that Trelawney had referenced earlier in the book. (The Astronomy Tower was the lightning-struck tower, the Dark Mark was standing in for the lightning, and Dumbledore filled the role of the person often shown falling from the tower in the card’s illustration.) For either or both of these reasons JKR could have decided that Dumbledore needed to fall, and then invented an excuse (such as the power-related one I gave above) for the seemingly strange effect of Snape’s Avada Kedavra.
Even if we assume Snape faked the Avada Kedavra and gently lowered Dumbledore to the ground, there’s still the trouble of the potion from the cave. Dumbledore was convinced that Snape was the only one who could treat the potion’s effects, but Snape took off after Dumbledore fell. Unless Snape managed to help Dumbledore in a manner of seconds (and with no supplies!), the only way Snape could have cured Dumbledore was if part of the conspiracy was to meet up somewhere very soon after Snape made his escape. Sounds simple enough, but how could Dumbledore have gotten to the rendezvous point? He was presumably unfit to ride a broom by that point even if he had one, and couldn’t have attempted Apparition unless he was well enough to get up and jog off of the school grounds.
That idea doesn’t feel very plausible to me, but I still like it better than the only other suggestion for a cure I’ve seen– Fawkes. Yes, phoenix tears have healing powers. I accept that as true. Still, there are several problems with assuming Fawkes could have cured Dumbledore:
1) If phoenix tears really can cure everything, then why did they need to send Katie Bell to St. Mungo’s? Why not just send Nurse Fawkes to cry on her and make it all better?
2) Even if we excuse Fawkes for not crying over the ailments of people he barely knows, he surely would’ve cried for Dumbledore. Why didn’t Fawkes cure Dumbledore’s hand when it was injured by the ring Horcrux?
3) Dumbledore must’ve known as much about phoenixes as anyone– if he thought Fawkes could cure him, why did he insist on seeing Snape? Dumbledore didn’t need to be dying by potion to fake his death by Avada Kedavra.
4) Just because phoenix tears can cure some ailments and injuries doesn’t mean they can cure all of them. We’ve rarely seen a type of magic that works in every circumstance.
Making another big leap of faith to assume Dumbledore was cured, there’s still the matter of the body. If Dumbledore didn’t die, where did the dead body Harry saw come from? To my mind, this is actually one of the easier things to explain away. In GoF, Barty Crouch admits to Transfiguring his father’s corpse into a bone. If a corpse can be made into a bone, it stands to reason that a rock or some other object could have been Transfigured to look like Dumbledore’s corpse.
The first problem with the Transfiguration idea, though, is that it seems a bit odd for Dumbledore to create a fake body and then transfer the locket to it.
The second problem with that idea is one the “Dumbledore is alive” theorists have created for themselves. A little too eager to find evidence, a number of them have been suggesting that the “body” at the funeral was wrapped up to hide the fact that it wasn’t actually Dumbledore’s body. Yes, the same people who are saying that Dumbledore either played dead or created a fake body at the base of the tower are arguing that the body had to be hidden at the funeral so no one would know Dumbledore wasn’t dead. Um… Why bother? As long as you’ve got an amazingly realistic fake corpse, wouldn’t it make for a more convincing fake death to show the body off at the funeral? “Hey, look at this guy! He sure is dead! They don’t get much deader than this. No chance of him being secretly alive, that’s for sure.”
As for the rest of the funeral… Some have argued that the ceremony was suspect because it did not include the supposed wizard tradition of breaking the deceased’s wand in half. As far as I know, the idea that wand-breaking is a funereal custom comes only from the song in Chapter 22 of HBP. Slughorn sang:
And Odo, the hero, they bore him back home
To the place that he’d known as a lad,
They laid him to rest with his hat inside out
And his wand snapped in two, which was sad.
This piece of “evidence” is, in my opinion, the flimsiest of the flimsy.
1) The song doesn’t say that Odo’s wand was broken as part of a death ritual. Odo’s wand could have been broken any number of ways. For example, it could have snapped during the battle that led to Odo’s death.
2) If the song accurately describes wizard funereal customs, why isn’t anyone worrying about the fate of Dumbledore’s hat?
3) Slughorn and Hagrid were drunk, and singing what I took to be an old folk song. Such songs may be based in some past truth, but that doesn’t mean they should be taken literally today. If a modern Englishman got it into his head that the song‘Scarborough Fair’ was a good guide to the dating scene, I think we could all agree he’d be in for some trouble.
The other part of the funeral that raised some questions was the way Dumbledore’s body burst into flames. I will acknowledge that this may not be part of the standard wizard funeral– several people screamed when it happened. We all know that Dumbledore was associated with the phoenix, which bursts into flames before being reborn from its own ashes. However, jumping to the conclusion that the funeral fire represented Dumbledore’s literal, phoenix-like rebirth is a bit much for me. We associate him with the phoenix, but surely the characters who knew the Headmaster well make the same association. I expect that the flames were a prearranged part of the funeral ceremony. After all, the flames created the tomb. If the tomb hadn’t been created, were Dumbledore’s friends just going to leave his velvet-wrapped body sitting out on a table by the lake?[Side Note: The flames may have also served another purpose, and a rather clever one at that. If the flames weren’t purely for show, Dumbledore’s funeral might also have been a cremation and/or special type of entombment. Since nutters like Voldemort apparently enjoy stealing body parts and reanimating corpses, it might be best if there isn’t anything physically left of Dumbledore that the bad guys can gain access to. The body could be burned to ash and/or the tomb could be enchanted to prevent tampering. While I don’t know this to be true, I do hope that it is. Ever since the concept of Inferi was brought up in HBP, I’ve been dreading the possibility that Harry will face a “Zombledore” in Book Seven.]
So far for Dumbledore to be alive, we’d have to believe that Snape cheated his Unbreakable Vow, the Avada Kedavra was faked, an antidote to Voldemort’s potion was already on hand, the “dead body” wasn’t real (or wasn’t dead), and the funeral was nothing but an overly sentimental fake-out. Dumbledore would have orchestrated a rather involved conspiracy, and told no one but Snape. Why not tell Harry?
The argument I’ve seen put forth suggests it would be too risky to tell Harry. It’s presumably very important to Dumbledore’s fake death plan that Voldemort not learn the truth. Harry’s a poor Occlumens. If Harry knew the secret, Voldemort could catch him and use Legilimency to find out that Dumbledore is still alive.
First, I would like to point out that if Voldemort ever catches Harry, there will be bigger problems for our hero to deal with.
Second, even if we worry about secrets, Dumbledore already let Harry in on the two biggest secrets there are. He told Harry all about the prophecy and everything he knew about the Horcruxes. Dumbledore even allowed Harry to tell both of those secrets to his best friends. I have a very hard time believing it would be any more dangerous for Harry to know Dumbledore is alive than it already is for Ron Weasley to know the key to killing Voldemort.
The Harry Potter series does include numerous references to fake deaths– Pettigrew fakes his own death, Crouch fakes his own death, Slughorn fakes his own death, and Dumbledore even offers Draco the chance to fake death. I think the case made for Dumbledore’s death being faked has been haphazard at best, but I won’t deny for a moment that it was possible for Dumbledore to fake his own death. He was the greatest wizard of his age, so if anyone could have pulled off a great fake death it would have been him. But why would he have wanted to do it?
Dumbledore’s death may have been a necessary part of Harry’s journey as hero. Indeed, the tragedy of Dumbledore’s death seems to have provided Harry with fresh inspiration to do what must be done. (I don’t know the tarot very well, but the things I’ve been reading suggest that this is the gist of the Tower card interpretation. Painful revelations and events lead to a better situation than could have happened without them.) However, it’s hard to believe that Dumbledore faked his own death just to push Harry into his next phase of development. We know that Dumbledore was in a story starring Harry, but we have to assume Dumbledore didn’t know that. More importantly, Dumbledore already believed that Harry would have the strength to take on Voldemort. When Harry mentioned trying to kill Voldemort, Dumbledore replied, “Of course you’ve got to! But not because of the prophecy! Because you, yourself, will never rest until you’ve tried! We both know it!”
Another explanation for why the death might have been faked is so Voldemort won’t notice Dumbledore sneaking around destroying Horcruxes. I don’t think this is very likely, because in Chapter 23 of HBP Dumbledore said he didn’t believe Voldemort knew when a Horcrux was destroyed. “Perhaps, at the point of death, he might be aware of his loss… but he was not aware, for instance, that the diary had been destroyed until he forced the truth out of Lucius Malfoy.”
The final reason I’ve heard most often for a fake death is that it was intended to lure Voldemort out into the open. This explanation seems just as improbable as the others. What’s the point of getting Voldemort into the open when as many as four Horcruxes still exist? He could march into downtown London with a target painted on his back, but that wouldn’t make him any less un-killable. Even if the Horcruxes weren’t an issue, Harry is the only one who can kill Voldemort. Since Voldemort’s already out to get Harry, there’s no need to lure anyone into the open. If Harry doesn’t go to Voldemort, Voldemort will go to Harry. Then they’ll fight. It’s that simple.
On top of not being useful, Dumbledore’s faked death could actually be harmful to Harry. Imagine Dumbledore popping back up in Book Seven and saying, “Remember all that stuff I said about the ones we love never truly leaving us? How you thought I meant that in the spiritual sense? Well… surprise!” Dumbledore has been instrumental in helping Harry to accept the deaths of people like his parents and Sirius. It would probably mess with Harry’s mind to have the person who helped him stop looking for loopholes stage a fake death and force Harry to watch.
When you look in the Mirror of Erised, do you see Dumbledore alive and well?
What would he say about that? We know what he told Harry: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live…”
I didn’t like to see Dumbledore die. At first it was rather comforting to imagine ways that he could come back in Book Seven. After having time to think it through, though, the idea of a fake death felt like grasping at straws. I couldn’t come up with a solid theory that made him not-dead, and I’ve yet to see one from anyone else. So do Ireally believe Dumbledore is alive? No.
Of course, it’s hard for a person not to dwell on dreams a little. I’ve just taken to a different sort of dream. If I’ve re-convinced any of you that Dumbledore is dead, I’ll gladly share my current dream with you and hope that it offers a different sort of comfort.
The saddest part about Dumbledore dying in Book Six is the risk that he won’t play a role in Book Seven. I don’t think Dumbledore will come back as a ghost (that wouldn’t be his nature), but there are surely other ways we’ll be reminded of him. The portrait in the Headmaster’s office may be of some help, there may be a will, there could be more of Dumbledore’s bottled memories to explore in the Pensieve, and his brother Aberforth is almost sure to have a larger role– but none of those are direct and active ways for our beloved Albus Dumbledore to be involved in the story.
If Dumbledore is dead, are there any direct or active ways for him to be involved?
I may have thought of one.
The Order of the Phoenix communicates using Patronuses. We don’t know preciselyhow this works, but you can see examples in Chapter 28 of GoF and Chapter 8 of HBP. JKR has confirmed on her website that Dumbledore invented this method of communication, and only Order members know how to use it. She has also confirmed that Dumbledore’s Patronus is a phoenix.
Just before the tomb appeared at the funeral “white smoke spiraled into the air and made strange shapes; Harry thought, for one heart-stopping moment, that he saw a phoenix fly joyfully into the blue…” What if this wasn’t symbolism or a hallucination? What if it wasn’t Dumbledore Transfiguring into a phoenix or his soul departing the earth? Could Harry have seen Dumbledore’s Patronus?
If it was a Patronus, that means Dumbledore found a way for one last message to be sent upon his entombment.
Who was the message for? I admit I could be fueling several different conspiracy theories at once by bringing this up, because there is one glaringly obvious potential recipient. (If you don’t know who I’m talking about, cross-reference the list of characters not at the funeral with the list of those who know how to use Patronuses as a method of communication.) There are plenty of other possibilities for message recipients, too. It all depends on how exactly the communication-by-Patronus system works. It’s hard to guess the content of the message without knowing the recipient, but it must have been important. It could be some useful information or instructions that will lead to Harry getting vital help. Dumbledore could have an unexpected impact on the way the story unfolds without even being there.
Believing any of this would require us to believe that Dumbledore took measures to ensure that final message would be sent after his death. Could he have? I can’t think of anything that proves it impossible. At any rate, this theory requires only one leap of faith instead of the several needed to construct a fake death scenario. There’s also every chance it’s wrong… but at least it only takes one round of speculation to get there. So that’s more good news: if anybody feels the need to debunk/criticize my theory, their editorial should be a lot shorter than this one.