The North Tower #35: Albus Dumbledore – Clueless or Calculating?

by Maline

Hi everybody. I know I said I’d be continuing my series of editorials on Snape today, but due to an enormous amount of feedback, there was another question that I felt that I needed to address first. I’ve never before received so many e-mails with the same content (it even tops the “I love Rupert Grint”-owls I got after my movie editorial. 🙂 And no, I don’t hate the boy in any way. I’m sure he’s a very nice person. I’m a firm believer in the theory that you can’t actually hate someone you don’t know. Just wanted to emphasize that, since I still get angry owls on the subject ;-)). After my last editorial, I got literally hundreds of emails asking and/or protesting about the following statement I made in NT 34:

I know that Voldemort is in Quirrell’s head (because Dumbledore told me so that I’d be able to protect myself).

I did get some 60-70 owls from people who agreed, but they were clearly in the minority compared to all the hundreds of people who didn’t do so. Thus, I thought I should try to explain my reasoning a bit since most of my other theories about Snape rely on much the same principle: Albus Dumbledore knows a lot more than Harry (and we sometimes) thinks he does.

I would like to start, not with the events of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s stone, but with what happens in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Here, Dumbledore clearly knows, pretty early on, that Voldemort is behind opening the Chamber of Secrets and that he is therefore present at Hogwarts in some form. When McGonagall asks who opened the Chamber, Dumbledore answers that the question isn’t who, the question is how. In the end, he says that what he most wants to know is how Voldemort could possess Ginny when his sources told him that Voldemort is hiding in Albania. The fact that it takes the trio the entire book to figure out that the monster is a basilisk doesn’t mean that Dumbledore is equally in the dark. Apart from the fact that the man has seen it all before and most likely, has figured out that Tom Riddle was the real culprit back then (advantage of hindsight), the list of petrifying monsters who kill without leaving marks should reasonably be very, very short. Combine those facts with the symbol of Slytherin House, the fact that Salazar Slytherin was a Parselmouth, and voilà! You have your basilisk. If Hermione managed it with far less information, Dumbledore should have too.

Step two, if you know that the Chamber has been reopened and the basilisk is slithering around, somebody must have released it. That somebody must be a Parselmouth. The gift of Parseltongue is, as stated in Chamber of Secrets, very rare. The only ones we know of in Hogwarts’s history (correct me if I’’m wrong) are Salazar Slytherin, Tom Riddle, and Harry Potter. Reasonably, before it is discovered that Harry is a Parselmouth, Dumbledore probably believed that there are no students with this ability at Hogwarts, which leads to the conclusion that Voldemort was possessing somebody to control the snake. Therefore the “not who, the question is how“-statement.

My point is that, in Chamber of Secrets, I think it’s quite clear that Dumbledore has figured out that the monster is a basilisk and that Voldemort is operating at Hogwarts through a teacher or a student. What he didn’t know was: a) how Voldemort managed to be at Hogwarts and in Albania at the same time, and b) what person he was using to achieve his goals. This is of course my personal reading of things, but I really think he would have to be exceptionally thick not to work those things out. So why didn’t he tell people? Well, first of all, telling people that a basilisk is roaming the school will most likely create panic and get the school shut down. Shutting down the school means that all the students go home and that it’s virtually impossible to find out who’s being possessed and end said possession. He probably figured the victim was a student, but since (according to JKR) there are about a thousand students at Hogwarts, singling one of them out as Voldemort’s victim isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially when you don’t know exactly how the possession is working. And after it became clear that Harry Potter could speak Parseltongue, I imagine he became the number one suspect on more lists than the Hufflepuffs’. Contrary to the Hufflepuff suspicion, however, I think Dumbledore is quite convinced that the person behind the whole thing is Voldemort and that Harry, if it is Harry, is merely an innocent pawn in the Dark Lord’s game. If you think about it, Harry really is the most logical choice. No one really knows exactly what happened when he defeated Voldemort the first time or how the connection between the two works. Dumbledore states clearly in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that he feared that Voldemort would try to possess Harry to spy on him. Is it so far-fetched that he might have thought along the same lines back in Chamber of Secrets when somebody, under Voldemort’s command, was driving the basilisk along the Hogwarts corridors?

I think that Dumbledore is very well aware of where Voldemort is, most of the time at least. We know about at least one silver instrument in his office (out of many) that is connected to the Dark Lord. He has “sources” that told him that Voldemort was in Albania (another silver instrument perhaps?). I would be very surprised if he didn’t have something to alert him if Voldemort came to Hogwarts.

It seems like the situation in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is much the same as in Chamber of Secrets: Dumbledore knows that someone is working for Voldemort (note that the Lord isn’t actually at Hogwarts at this time though), but he doesn’t know who. So why would it be so impossible that he knew about Quirrell back in Sorcerer’s Stone? Let’s examine the situation…


The Quirrell Dilemma

Then… four years ago… the means for my return seemed assured. A wizard—young, foolish, and gullible—wandered across my path in the forest I had made my home. Oh, he seemed the very chance I had been dreaming of… for he was a teacher at Dumbledore’s school…” – Voldemort (GoF 567)

Poor bloke. Brilliant mind. He [Quirrell] was fine while he was studyin’ outta books but then he took a year off ter get some first-hand experience… They say he met vampires in the Black Forest and there was a nasty bit o’trouble with a hag—never been the same since.” – Hagrid (SS 55)

I met him [Voldemort] when I traveled around the world. A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil.” – Quirrell (SS 211)

These three quotes establish, if nothing else, three things: 1. that Quirrell already was a teacher at Hogwarts when Voldemort got hold of him. Dumbledore did thus not hire somebody he knew was possessed. 2. Voldemort got hold of Quirrell four years prior to Voldemort’s rebirth. If we use the conventional timeline (which puts Harry’s birth in 1980), the rebirth was on June 24, 1995, which would put Quirrell and Voldemort’s encounter around June 1991, only months before Harry started Hogwarts. 3. Quirrell was not a Death Eater the first time around. (“I met him,” context indicating a first meeting. Also, he’s at several times described as “young,” something that Snape, for instance, isn’t, despite the fact that he’s only in his early 30s in this book.)

What I find bewildering with these three quotes is the fact that Hagrid seems so used to Quirrell’s “scared professor”-act. Because we know it’s an act, we saw that clearly when he let it fall in “A Man with Two Faces” (SS 17). I always assumed that the stories about being scared by vampires and hags were just cover stories and that his stuttering behavior would have started at pretty much the same time as he teamed up with Voldemort. However, Hagrid talks about it like Quirrell’s been this way for years, which makes me think that either the “year off to get experience” happened a couple of years earlier and Quirrell just happened to run into Voldemort the summer of ’91 when he was on vacation or similar (in which case the stuttering act is difficult to explain, as well as the “I met him when I was traveling around the world”-part), or Hagrid is exaggerating and/or JKR mangled this part a little. I’’m leaning toward the second option. Hagrid does tend to exaggerate and JKR isn’t perfect, just like all people.

Okay, so on with why I believe that Dumbledore knew about Quirrell and Voldemort.

1. The removal of the Sorcerer’s Stone from Gringotts

Gringotts is, according to Hagrid, considered to be the safest place to hide something apart from Hogwarts. The stone is in a high-security vault. It was moved the same day as Quirrell tried to steal it. Coincidence? Hardly. Dumbledore knows somebody is after it, and I’m quite sure that he knows that that somebody is Voldemort or a servant of said Dark Lord. After all, very powerful Dark Magic is needed to get through. And here we have young Quirrell, recently back from his year abroad, behaving very odd indeed. Hem, hem…

2. The “obstacle course” set up to protect the stone

To me, this entire setup positively screams “trap,” especially since the stone is hidden in the Mirror of Erised at the end. Consider this: If the trio hadn’t gone through the trapdoor, Quirrellmort would have been stuck (not bodily of course) in front of the mirror long enough for Dumbledore to come back and catch him. The stone would have been safe, and the bad guy would have been caught.

3. The fact that Quirrell tried to kill Harry and Snape knew about it.

Dumbledore came to the second game. That indicates that he knows what happened in the first. If Snape is working for Dumbledore (which I’’m pretty sure he is), he would have told him about Quirrell hexing the broom, Quirrell, the teacher who went to faraway places and came home with a stinky turban and a new personality; it’s very suspicious.

Okay, now on to the $100,000 question: Why wouldn’t Dumbledore have done something about it if he knew that Voldemort was possessing Quirrell and roaming about Hogwarts?

Well, I have three theories, which I think complement each other. Number one is the fact that, though Dumbledore most likely suspected Quirrell of being possessed by Voldemort, he probably wasn’t entirely sure until later on in the year. It might have been, like in Chamber of Secrets, that he knew that Voldemort was at Hogwarts but not whom he was using to get to the stone. He didn’t do anything at first because he needed to make sure what was actually going on.

Number two: Like in Chamber of secrets, it would be better for him to have Voldemort somewhere where he could watch him than somewhere where he couldn’t. There are still plenty of old Death Eaters walking around, and if Quirrellmort got fired, he probably would end up on Lucius Malfoy’s doorstep in less than a week. Not good. Vapormort is, after all, far better than a risen Dark Lord (à la Goblet of Fire), something Mr. Malfoy could easily make happen (really, if Pettigrew could, Malfoy would be able to). Quirrellmort probably isn’t even such a threat to the students, well except for Harry Potter, but one boy you can protect. He’s after the Sorcerer’s Stone, after all. Why would he blow his cover before he’s reached his goal by harming students? Voldemort might be evil, but he isn’t stupid. And we’ve been told several times that he prefers to use subterfuge and manipulation where he can. He’s not a big brute, I doubt that the students were in any danger at all. Some unicorns, sure, but not the students.

If you see it like that, keeping Quirrell at Hogwarts when knowing that he’s possessed by Voldemort makes a lot more sense than letting him out on the street. Inside the castle, he can be watched (by many eyes, just think of all the portraits) he isn’t really a threat to the students (a lot less than a risen Voldemort would be in any case) and you can use the stone as bait to catch him and perhaps save Quirrell – who used to be a good guy. Quirrell is described as “young” on several occasions, something Snape isn’t (even though Snape is only in his early 30s in Sorcerer’s Stone, which must be considered quite young for a wizard). Quirrell might be as young as in his early to mid-twenties, seeing as he’s already taught at Hogwarts for some time (how long, we don’t know, but since Snape became Potions Master being only about 21, Quirrell could quite easily be 23-24 in Sorcerer’s Stone). If this is somewhat correct, he never was a Death Eater the first time around. He would have been too young. And from what Voldemort says in Goblet of Fire, you definitely get the impression that he didn’t know Quirrell from before. Quirrell gives the same impression.

So basically, it comes down to this (for Dumbledore, if he knows that Quirrell is carrying Voldemort in his turban): Keep Voldemort at Hogwarts where you can watch him, keep him occupied, and perhaps find a way to trap him and save Quirrell or throw them both out into the wizarding world, where you have no control over them and where a number of old Death Eaters would be more than happy to help restore Voldemort to his former greatness and persuade him that he might not need the stone right now. Oh, and Quirrell would most definitely die. I think it was one of Dumbledore’s more intelligent decisions to keep him at Hogwarts (if he did know). The one part I don’t understand is why he waited so long to try to catch him. Well, actually, I do have a theory on that mystery as well. 🙂


It’s all about stalling.

A direct approach has uncertain consequences, especially when you know that you can’t kill your enemy (prophecy). I don’t think that there’s a great mystery as to why Dumbledore doesn’t try to kill Voldemort, both in Sorcerer’s Stone and at the end of Order of the Phoenix: He simply believes in the prophecy, and according to that prophecy, only little Harry Potter (i.e., “the one”) is able to do that. Dumbledore can’t kill Voldemort (as things stand) and he knows it. Voldemort doesn’t however (because he hasn’t heard the prophecy in its entirety) and it would be preferable that things stay that way, because if Voldemort knew that Dumbledore couldn’t kill him, he’d probably go straight to Hogwarts to finish off that troublesome Potter-boy before he’s ready to fight him (which I think he just might do in Book 6, by the way). Harry Potter is the only one who can vanquish the Dark Lord, so you try to stall said Lord to allow the boy to grow up a bit and become a little stronger (improve your odds). And stalling him isn’t very hard. We’ve seen, time and again, how inflexible Voldemort can be when he sets his mind to something. He’s not exactly the most clever strategist ever born (neither is Dumbledore by the way). In Sorccerer’s Stone, he spends the entire year trying to get the Sorcerer’s Stone when a much smarter course of action would have been to go see Lucius Malfoy and do the ritual to get his body back. In Goblet of Fire, he waits patiently for the third task to get Harry Potter instead of having the fake Moody just transform his pillow into a Portkey at the beginning of the year (though there might have been advantages to doing the ritual around the summer solstice that we don’t know of). And in Order of the Phoenix, both sides spend an entire year guarding/trying to get through a friggin’ door. If that’s not stalling, I don’t know what is. It also seems like both sides have a weakness for wanting to win in a specific way, rather than just winning. It seems like Voldemort wants to win in the most devious way possible, involving a nice web of manipulation, subterfuge, and intricate plotting. He doesn’t just want to win, he wants to win with style. He wants to conquer, not butcher (e.g., giving Harry back his wand and telling the Death Eaters not to touch him in Goblet of Fire, sending the basilisk after him instead of simply killing him with a Killing Curse in Chamber of Secrets). It seems to me like Harry and Tom are even more alike than we think. If Harry has some Slytherin in him (making the Hat hesitate), I’d say that Tom mirrors him, having some definite Gryffindor tendencies. Something to think about… And as for Dumbledore, he obviously has a weakness for trying to catch people in the act and to “play fair.” Why else the “obstacle course” in Sorcerer’s Stone? Or his silence on the matter of Tom Riddle’s birth?



When it comes to Dumbledore, we are limited by the Harry filter, tending to see the headmaster the way Harry does, assuming that he knows as much as he does, that he too discovers each situation along with Harry and us, the readers. We neglect to see what is pointed out several times in Order of the Phoenix: Just because Dumbledore doesn’t share all his knowledge with Harry doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have it. Harry only gets to know what he needs to know, and this is true in all the books. On a story level, Harry only gets to know as much as Dumbledore deems wise to tell him (e.g., Order of the Phoenix). On a storytelling level, Harry only gets to know as much as JKR wants us to know. If we got to read the books through Albus Dumbledore instead of Harry Potter, I’d bet they’d be a lot more detailed but much less exciting. I think it’s safe to assume that Dumbledore knows a lot more than the trio on most occasions (though not on all, we have plenty of examples where Dumbledore is in the dark as well) and especially when it relates to Voldemort and Death Eater activity. So yes, I do believe that Dumbledore knows that Quirrell is possessed by Voldemort in Sorcerer’s Stone and that he tells at least Snape (and probably McGonagall) about it. But then, in the end, until JKR tells us something definite on the matter, that’s just my theory.

See you next time, when we’ll get back to the Potions Master.