The Long Reach of Dumbledore

by Angela Goff

We all know JKR is a master of details. Her intricately connected plots keep readers enthralled and, no doubt, make script-writers gnash their teeth when trying to adapt them for movies. To eliminate one detail is to throw the overall picture of the wizarding world out of kilter.

But there is an aspect to her detailed tapestry of Hogwarts that I believe has been largely overlooked so far. True, parts of it have been scrutinized almost to death, but others have gone almost completely unnoticed – most especially the large picture that all these pieces compose. I am speaking of Dumbledore’s protection – incredible, intensely watchful protection – that he gives to not just Harry, but a host of characters, from the wholly obvious to the seemingly unlikely.

Harry, Hagrid and Trelawney

At this point, these three can be waved away with a simple summary. JKR has revealed why Dumbledore allowed Hagrid and Trelawney to stay on at Hogwarts, even though Hagrid was presumed a murderer and known half-giant, and Sybil (under ordinary conditions) does not possess the Seer potential of her famous ancestor. Harry, as the central character, has been so thoroughly illuminated in the books that we now know a great deal about Dumbledore’s meticulous pains in protecting him. Dumbledore’s protection of these three is, by now, past argument.

Moaning Myrtle

I’ve added Myrtle because I think it’s significant that JKR includes Myrtle’s musings in GoF, when Harry is contemplating the wailing egg in the prefect’s bathroom and Myrtle is reminiscing about haunting Olive Hornsby. We learn that she haunted Olive for years before the Ministry of Magic forced her to stop and “I had to come back here,” as she tells Harry. She appears to have been banished, so to speak, and forced to haunt the toilet where she died. But Dumbledore could have contested the decision, or at least insisted she behave, as I am sure the out-of-order bathroom has been a huge inconvenience for Hogwarts girls, not to mention poor Filch, who must mop up the mess from time to time.

But Dumbledore let Myrtle haunt the bathroom to her heart’s content. The reason behind this was revealed in the second book, when Myrtle turned out to be the key to the whole CoS riddle. But then she turns up again in GoF with pertinent help – twice – so it makes a person wonder: what else does Myrtle know? Dumbledore’s protection is never without good reason, and we have learned before that whatever his actions seem to mean, Dumbledore himself has another twenty layers of reasoning behind them that we – and most of the wizarding world – know little about.

Of course, that leads us straight to the most speculated person on the list.


This has to be the most baffling act of trust in the entire series (at least at this point, with only five books to peruse); and that’s really what this whole essay is about – Dumbledore’s trust. He trusts Harry, even when people think he’s delusional or seeking attention. He employs Trelawney and Hagrid when most people wouldn’t snap their fingers at them. But Snape?

This we know for certain: Snape was once a Death Eater; he still bears the Dark Mark on his arm; and yet he was cleared of all charges, and never sent to Azkaban. Why? Because Dumbledore vouched for him, having entered evidence at a hearing that Snape had a change of heart and “rejoined our side before Voldemort’s downfall and turned spy for us, at great personal risk” (591, GoF). We know all this because of Harry’s forays into Dumbledore’s pensieve. As for when that hearing took place and what evidence was presented, we can only guess.

But by carefully reading OotP, we can deduce further information. Snape is an accomplished Legilimens and a skilled Occlumens, hence the reason Dumbledore wanted Snape to teach Harry how to close his mind to disturbing dreams. He also makes several revealing statements to Harry during their Occlumency sessions – most notably that:

“Only those skilled at Occlumency are able to shut down those feelings and memories that contradict the lie, and so utter falsehoods in [Voldemort’s] presence without detection.” (531, OotP)

This revelation makes a person wonder…could Snape be referring to himself?

It would seem so, as Snape is accomplished at Occlumency, and still refers to Voldemort as “the Dark Lord” (a phrase only Death Eaters use). This would mean, then, that the three missing Death Eaters mentioned on page 651 of GoF does not include Snape at all. The missing three, instead, would be:
1. Barty Crouch, Jr. (the faithful Death Eater in Voldemort’s service) 2. Karkaroff (too cowardly to return)

and – in full agreement with an earlier editorial whose name escapes me –

3. Cornelius Fudge (who has left Voldemort forever)

(For those of you having a hard time swallowing the Fudge theory, reread the chapter “The Parting of the Ways” in GoF for Fudge’s reaction to the whole idea of Voldemort coming back. It’s in the details – that’s all I’ll say.)

So, if all that is true – and Snape is not among the three missing Death Eaters, that means he was physically present in the circle of Death Eaters the night Voldemort returned to full power. It also means he stood by and watched while Voldemort tortured, and later dueled, Harry. We may find out later that Snape was quietly aiding Harry’s escape that night – or we might not. But the fact that Snape is supposedly still reporting to Voldemort – presumably on Dumbledore’s orders – creates far more questions than we can answer right now. I doubt even Book 6 will shed much light on it. We’ll likely have to wait for the long-awaited climactic scene at the end of Book 7 for it all to make sense.

But the fact remains, as a former Death Eater still consorting with Death Eaters for the good of the Order, Snape remains the most baffling person under Dumbledore’s protection. And yes, I do believe he is being protected. JKR has reiterated again and again that Voldemort will not approach Hogwarts while Dumbledore is there, and who is to say that Dumbledore is there to only look after Harry? Especially with all these other people (Trelawney, etc.) that we know he also protects? He wouldn’t even allow Trelawney to be removed from school grounds when Umbridge sacked her. So, between Voldemort-related assignments, what would be safer for Snape than to be at Hogwarts?

(Snape’s double-agent role, incidentally, may also explain why Dumbledore has never allowed him to take on the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. He may yet let him in the last book or two, but I doubt it. It would put Snape in a very vulnerable position, where he could easily be found out. Best to let him lurk in his dungeons, inflicting students with difficult potion assignments.)

What safer place indeed, than a Hogwarts governed by Albus Dumbledore, whom everyone knows is the only person Voldemort ever feared? And just why is Voldemort so afraid of him? For that answer, I ask you to go back and reread JBD’s brilliant editorial Grindelwald and Professor Binns, which gives the theory in full. The bottom line is that Tom Riddle was likely on the sidelines watching when Dumbledore defeated the Dark Wizard Grindelwald in 1945. Defeated, as the Chocolate Frog cards say, not killed. Dumbledore didn’t even try to kill Voldemort when they faced off at the end of OotP. Why not?

Well, yes, I know Dumbledore knows the Prophecy and so knows Harry is the one to vanquish Voldemort eventually. But it doesn’t mean he couldn’t have tried. Even Voldemort sneers at him, asking “Above such brutality, are you?” (814). But Dumbledore also gives the interesting reply: “We both know that there are other ways of destroying a man, Tom.” We both know. Both know what? Just what did Dumbledore do to Grindelwald?

Well…here’s where my own theory kicks in. Take it for what you will.

We know Dumbledore was the transfiguration teacher before McGonagall, before he ever became Headmaster. We also learn from Madam Marchbanks in OotP that when he sat his N.E.W.T. transfiguration exam for her, he “did things with a wand I’d never seen before” (711). If he was doing that at 18, imagine what he was doing by the time he dueled Grindelwald (to say nothing of what he could do now). So what could Dumbledore do to Grindelwald that would break his power utterly, terrify Tom Riddle, and yet not kill him?

Dumbledore could transfigure him – irreversibly, horribly, strangely.

Grindelwald could become…Peeves?

Okay, maybe not. Maybe Grindelwald is the Giant Squid, or one of the statues that adorn Hogwarts, or something else that won’t come into the books at all. But I say Peeves, because Peeves is the other character at Hogwarts that Dumbledore keeps around when there is seemingly no good reason to do so. He wreaks havoc of the highest order, and while that was very useful when Umbridge was around, the rest of the time he’s just a royal pain. Filch has tried for years to convince the Headmaster to expel Peeves, but to no avail. Dumbledore simply won’t do it. Umbridge was certainly ready to, and under different circumstances most of the students and faculty might have agreed with her. But Dumbledore will not make Peeves leave – and Peeves, as we saw in PoA, will give Dumbledore respect when he gives it to no other, even though he’s still surly when he does so (161, PoA).

The only reason I can see for Dumbledore keeping Peeves around is that he is also being protected, hidden away in Hogwarts because Dumbledore cannot afford to have him fall into anyone else’s hands – or because, like Myrtle, he knows something that has yet to come into play. Maybe he’s not a transfigured Grindelwald. But Peeves could be important.

After all, Dumbledore’s reach is very long. And he never protects without very good reason.