The Phoenix Files: Folder #2: Professor/Headmaster Albus Percival Wulfric Brian
By Christopher Stephen
Okay, I’m quite sorry about this, but I’m going to have to go off the subject a bit here. I believe I have figured out or at least cleared up a pretty foggy area in the series. As I was re-reading the passages with Dumbledore in them, especially the “explanation” in Book Five, I noticed he talked about the letter he sent to PETUNIA DURSLEY. Page 836 in the American first edition hardback:
“You need return there [the Dursley’s] only once a year, but as long as you can still call it home, there he [Voldemort] cannot hurt you. Your aunt knows this. I explained what I had done in the letter I left, with you, on her doorstep. She knows that allowing you houseroom may well have kept you alive for the past fifteen years.”
“Wait,” said Harry. “Wait a moment.”
He sat up straighter in his chair, staring at Dumbledore. “You sent that Howler. You told her to remember – it was your voice -”
“I thought,” said Dumbledore, inclining his head slightly, “that she might need reminding of the pact she had sealed by taking you.”
So I immediately thought J. K. Rowling had made a huge mistake, one on the scale of the Book Four Priori Incantatem wand issue. The letter was obviously addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Vernon P. Dursley, Four Privet Drive, etc.,” right? WRONG. Looking back at the actual BOOK passage (American, paperback), I found JKR never does say to whom the letter was addressed.
“He [Dumbledore] laid Harry gently on the doorstep, took a letter out of his cloak, tucked it inside Harry’s blankets, and then came back to the other two [McGonagall, Hagrid].”
“One small hand closed on the letter beside him [Harry] and he slept on…””…he would be woken in a few hours’ time by Mrs. Dursley’s scream as she opened the front door to put out the milk bottles…”
AHA! Now we know that Dumbledore definitely addressed the letter to Mrs. Dursley, based on the “remember my last” Howler he sent her. JKR specified that there was a difference between letters sent to only Petunia (like this one, when Harry was left on the Dursley’s doorstep) and to the Dursleys in general (like the one sent after the Ford Anglia incident in Book Two). I am very sorry, Ms. Rowling, for ever having doubted you. You see, JKR knew all along the letter was addressed to Petunia, and we (apparently like the filmmakers, explained later) just assumed (a horrid thing to do in the series) that it was addressed to BOTH Petunia and Vernon. Then, JKR explained Dumbledore’s “last” would be the last letter he sent ONLY to Petunia, and we all assumed that, too, was a mistake, because we know of no such letter, right? Wrong again. The first letter we hear about in the series is addressed only to Petunia; the omission of the addressee is yet another Rowling trick. You got me, hook, line, and sinker, Ms. Rowling.
What this means, however, is that the filmmakers unknowingly made a mistake in showing the letter in the SS/PS movie addressed to both of the Dursleys. I have tried quite hard to distinguish between what I have read in the novels and seen in the movies, but this one fact got mixed up somewhere. JKR probably noticed this immediately, and I bet she wished it had been changed. While not the end of the world, for us HP fans it is quite difficult to keep our facts straight. Anyway, we now know the “last” mentioned in the Howler WAS that letter Dumbledore laid on the Dursley’s doorstep. And Dumbledore even explains quite a bit in Book Five what that letter said. How interesting. Yet again, another seemingly obvious letter explaining to the Dursleys who this baby was becomes a HUGE plot point, especially because it was not addressed to the Dursleys but rather to only Petunia. What a coincidence that Petunia discovered Harry that day instead of Vernon, hmm?
But wait… There seems to me to be no end to this vicious cycle. I believe JKR may have made a mistake after all. Re-reading Chapter One, Book One, page 13 of the American paperback edition, Dumbledore says:
“His aunt and uncle will be able to explain everything to him when he’s older. I’ve written them a letter.”
Now, if Dumbledore had written a letter ONLY to Petunia Dursley, he wouldn’t tell McGonagall he’d written “them” a letter. Unless, of course, there was more than one letter, but JKR specifically says Dumbledore took a letter out of his pocket and laid it on baby Harry. So the speculation begins. Did Dumbledore get into contact with Petunia AFTER leaving Harry on the doorstep, just to make sure everything was going as he had planned (and that the Dursleys hadn’t thrown him out no matter what the letter had said)? Or is there just a mistake? Or something else we’re missing here? Perhaps Dumbledore has been in contact with the Dursleys much, much more than we (and Harry) realize.
Anyways, on to Dumbledore himself. What a character. He is the glue that holds the series together, he is the chewing gum that makes Snape and Sirius stick together, he is the rubber cement that keeps Harry close to Hogwarts throughout the series. Dumbledore is perhaps the biggest mystery throughout the series. We learn more and more and more about him in every book, yet we seem to understand less and less about him. We know he is eccentric by all standards (Muggle and wizard). We find he has a sense of humor (humour for all my British friends) and is both senile and unfathomably wise simultaneously. What a guy.
The most important thing to notice about Dumbledore is that he doesn’t care about your past. The number of examples is greater than the number of grains of sand on the beach. One example is his fondness for lemon drops in the first chapter. This shows that even though he is a wizard, he does not despise all things Muggle. This is an extremely important quality that I believe carries implications for the future of the series. Other examples: Snape was a Death Eater, yet Dumbledore trusts him; Hagrid is half-giant, yet Dumbledore trusts him, etc. My favorite example: Dumbledore educates Draco Malfoy. This is perhaps the most important thing in the entire series. Lucius Malfoy is a known Death Eater (Dumbledore certainly knows it, even if Fudge doesn’t), and Narcissa (Black) Malfoy is not exactly perfect, yet Dumbledore accepts Draco into the school and increases his wizarding knowledge, KNOWING it could easily be used against him in the near future. Dumbledore understands that it is a powerful thing for a person to be indebted to you; Draco will “owe” Dumbledore his education (although he probably will never admit it), and Dumbledore understands how advantageous that can become to the Order. He knows Draco may or may not turn out to be a Death Eater. Just because your parents are certainly doesn’t mean you will be. Take Sirius, for example. While his parents weren’t Death Eaters, per se, they definitely were part of a Dark family; yet Sirius and Tonks are both in the Order.
Dumbledore is unbelievably wise. He knows how to think very quickly on his feet, but he is getting older. JKR enjoys watching her characters age, and that does not just mean Harry and his friends. Just as Harry is going through puberty, Dumbledore is getting older and older as well. In Book One, JKR describes Dumbledore as very old, yet still giving off a large amount of energy. By the descriptions in Book Five, Dumbledore is weary. The lines in his face are deeper, his hands more wrinkled, the twinkling gaze not as bright. By noting how vividly his movements are described in earlier books, it is obvious he is not as youthful as he once was.
Dumbledore is amazing, no doubt about it. Will he be around for the end of the series? I find it quite doubtful. I’m not sure how, but Dumbledore may not live to see the Final Battle. I usually stay away from rumors, but I’ve got to offer this one up. Dumbledore has been right about nearly everything so far. Even though he made a mistake in not telling Harry the whole story, he thought he was acting for Harry’s peace of mind (which he was). What if Dumbledore was wrong about one more thing? Something huge that could impact the series. Many point to Snape, saying he still is evil. I disagree. I think Snape truly is loyal; he shows that loyalty more than ever in Book Five. My choice for Dumbledore misjudging something is the Prophecy. I think there still is some way in which Neville could have been “marked as his [Voldemort’s] equal” even if it is not as obvious as Harry’s scar. Now, the series could end and I could find out I was totally and completely wrong. Or, JKR may well address our question on her website, as it’s part of the FAQ Poll (but I bet she’ll give us just enough information to shut us up, and not REALLY put everything to rest on the subject). I may be way off here, and I’m sure everyone has thought about it since reading Book Five, but if you think about it even more, the implications of Harry not being “The One” are quite scary. I only have one piece of (pretty weak) evidence for my theory: Neville bouncing when his Uncle Algie dropped him out of a window. If the prophecy is binding (“One must die at the hand of the other”), then Neville couldn’t possibly have died then if he was indeed “The One”. Still think I’m crazy? Let me know at the e-mail address below.
Who knows what other secrets Dumbledore may hold? It’s still difficult to understand how he seems to know EVERYTHING; surely the paintings and his correspondences help, along with Fawkes, but he didn’t seem to know about the Room of Requirement (Book Four)! We don’t know what Dumbledore’s wand is made of, what his Patronus looks like, or what his Boggart is–now THAT would be interesting! Possibly bare feet (think Mirror of Erised, Book One)? We know very little about the true Dumbledore when we think about it, and the secrets he holds are most likely the answers to the whole series. Funny how that works, huh?
Thanks for reading! Remember to send your comments to christopherstephened at hotmail dot com and be on the look-out for Folder #3, that of Rita Skeeter.