The Phoenix Files: What We Know, What We Don’t Know, and What We May Be Able to Foresee
Albus Dumbledore–Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Chairman of the International Confederation of Wizards, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, and recipient of the Order of Merlin First Class. Not to mention the greatest wizard of modern times, in part because he defeated the dark wizard Grindelwald. And who can forget his being a perennial favorite on Chocolate Frog cards? Yup, there’s a lot there to, er, digest. Even so, there is still plenty we don’t know about Dumbledore. And of course there is endless speculation that can be made about his future. In this, my first try at writing an editorial, I’m going to cover all three of these categories: what we know, what we don’t know, and what we may be able to foresee given the clues and a bit of logical reasoning.
This editorial will be split into two halves. The first half is basically a list of “items of note” concerning Professor Dumbledore and a few comments on them. I’ve drawn no conclusions from the items I’ve listed but perhaps some of you will. That would be just fine by me. The second half of the editorial is more like the editorials we’re all used to on MuggleNet. Just a disclaimer: I am no expert in literature, mythology, psychology, or any of the other “ologies.” These are just some of my thoughts as an amateur but passionate fan of the Harry Potter series. So here goes…
1 – Dumbledore is old, even by wizarding standards. He is about 150 years old. This means he was born shortly before or around the beginning of the U.S. Civil War. So he has witnessed a great deal of modern history, learned much from it, and even made some of it himself.
2 – We know nothing of Dumbledore’s birth, youth, or current personal life outside of Hogwarts other than what is noted on his Chocolate Frog Card, including the facts that he likes “chamber” music (Phoenix Song in CoS, anyone?) and tenpin bowling. We know nothing of his parentage, whether he is a pure-blood, a half-blood, or Muggle-born. If he’s from a magical family, we know nothing about his parents’ abilities or background. We do know he has a brother, Aberforth, who runs the Hogshead Inn in Hogsmead and that Aberforth seems to be a bit of an underachiever compared to Albus.
3 – Dumbledore used to have ginger colored hair before going gray. Other ginger haired characters include the entire Weasley family and Harry’s mother, Lily Evans Potter. We do not know if Dumbledore is in any way related by blood to these or other characters with such coloring, although it seems there is a distant relationship between redhead Arthur Weasley and the Black family.
4 – We do know he was a friend of and worked closely with Nicolas Flamel, the famous alchemist and creator of the Sorcerer’s Stone in Book 1, even though Flamel was several hundred years older than he. Dumbledore himself is quite skilled at alchemy and has been given acclaim for discovering the 12 uses of dragon’s blood.
- We do not know how Dumbledore and Flamel met or why they became such close friends despite their age difference.
- We do not know if Flamel was Dumbledore’s mentor, as is often the case when a much older person befriends a younger one.
- We do not know what the 12 uses of dragon’s blood are (apart from a “highly effective oven cleaner”) or how Dumbledore discovered them, nor if he were already a Transfiguration professor at the time of his discovery. Might the uses be included in transfiguration work? And just how did he come by enough dragon’s blood to discover twelve uses?!
- We do not know if these uses are important to Charlie Weasley’s current work with dragons or whether that work might necessitate him coming more under Dumbledore’s direct influence in future books.
- We do not know what other alchemical achievements Dumbledore may have made.
- We do not know if he, too, ever created a Sorcerer’s Stone or if he would do so again if he thought it necessary.
5 – Dumbledore taught Transfiguration before becoming Hogwarts Headmaster.
- This implies he is a master of transfiguration and he thus can transfigure objects, animals…perhaps even people.
- We do not know if he is an animagus as Prof. McGonagall is and as has been suggested by Erin Linn in The Quibbler #1, Flying High with Dumbledore. If he is an animagus, he is unregistered. While this may not seem to suit his position as headmaster of the most prestigious wizarding school in the world, it may indeed suit his personality. He’s the type of person to have as many tricks up his sleeve as he feels may be necessary to use in the future, should sufficient need arise. He sees much, rarely misses anything, and is very, very good at putting together pieces of a puzzle no one else even realizes exists. So such tricks often do come in handy for him. In other words, I wouldn’t put it past him.
- We do not know if Dumbledore has a specialty when it comes to transfiguration.
- We do not know what items we have encountered to date that may have been transfigured by him.
- While a student himself at Hogwarts, we know he was in Gryffindor House and that he continues in numerous ways to show his loyalty to it. (An interesting “coincidence” – the current Transfiguration teacher, Professor McGonagall, is now head of Gryffindor House. Might transfiguration be of special use to those who are brave of heart, such as Gryffindors?)
- We do not know how Dumbledore came to teach at Hogwarts or what he did during his adult years after leaving school himself before becoming a teacher.
- We do not know how Dumbledore, or anyone else, has been chosen to head the school. We know that some of the decision lies with the twelve school governors, but we do not know the specific mechanism for choosing a headmaster.
- We do not know under what circumstances the previous headmaster, Armando Dippet, died or otherwise left his post.
6 – We know Dumbledore somehow knows almost everything that occurs at Hogwarts and a good deal of what occurs elsewhere as well. How does he manage this? In his Phoenix Files #2, Christopher Stephen mentioned Dumbledore’s use of both the castle paintings and Fawkes to gather information. Here are some other methods we know he uses and some he may use:
- He reads Muggle newspapers to keep up with goings-on in their world.
- He speaks the language of numerous magical species, including Mermish.
- He has wizarding information contacts (aka spies) who tell him things he could not easily learn otherwise about activity within the magical world. It’s likely that not all of these contacts live in the world of paintings.
- Dumbledore may well be half Demiguise, a creature capable of disappearing at will. (See Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander, page 9.) He tells us in Book 1 that he does “not need a cloak to become invisible.” (See Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, American hardback, page 213.) In fact, such cloaks may be made from the same fine, silvery hair that makes up the pelt of a Demiguise and which resembles Dumbledore’s own hair. Perhaps his own ability to disappear at will is in part how he secretly keeps tabs on so many goings-on. (Just a bit of speculation here – perhaps the cloak Harry supposedly inherited from his father, James, which was apparently kept in storage by Dumbledore after James’ death, was actually made by Dumbledore from his own hair.)
- Dumbledore is also a gifted legilimens and occlumens. Therefore, he can sense other people’s thoughts and emotions as well as endeavor to keep his own away from the prying minds of anyone wishing to unveil his thoughts. He may very well come by some of his vast awareness of events through the first of these gifts.
- While he may seem absentminded at times, this may well be a public face Dumbledore puts on to obscure his keen wareness of what goes on around him at Hogwarts and throughout the wizarding world. Who would suspect a congenial but dottering old man of being a strategic mastermind? This form of deception in furtherance of intelligence gathering has been used by no less than Sherlock Holmes himself. Even for those who know better of Dumbledore, this is an excellent way to lull them into a false sense of security while around him and lead them to say more than they might otherwise.
Keeping all these facts in mind, it’s now time to speculate on how Dumbledore’s role in the Harry Potter saga may continue to develop. Yes, our headmaster seems absentminded at times; but I believe that in actuality Dumbledore is in no way senile! He may be getting older, finally showing his advanced years and slowing down to some degree, but he is still completely competent. Part of his apparent tiredness likely stems from the immense strain he has been under for more than a quarter of a century now. Even before Harry’s birth and subsequently perilous life journey, Voldemort had been active for over 10 years, requiring constant vigilance on Dumbledore’s part. That’s a very long time for anyone, let alone a man of Dumbledore’s age, to keep up a struggle.
Even so, Dumbledore has been able to muster an impressive inner fire on more than one occasion when it was necessary for him to defend Harry. In the imposter Moody’s office, after Harry has returned from his near-fatal graveyard rendezvous with Voldemort in GoF, and again in the Ministry of Magic, when Harry is nearly killed by Voldemort in OotP, Dumbledore radiates an intense aura of power and righteous wrath. It would seem he is more than up to the physical task of protecting Harry. It is the emotional task, with its much more nuanced ins and outs, that seems to have taxed him so. With worse to come for Harry, how will Dumbledore hold up? Or will he?
A momentary aside…I do wonder if Dumbledore ever had children of his own. It would seem JKR would have told us that by now if it were so, but perhaps not. Perhaps his own family perished during Grindelwald’s reign or early in Voldemort’s. More likely, though, is that he never raised his own children. Despite his vast experience in shepherding the young students of Hogwarts, he may never have been solely responsible for the deeply complex emotional maturation process of a child. That may be why the emotional aspect of protecting Harry, even from Harry’s own willfulness–not to mention Voldemort’s mind games–has proven so tiring for him. And more simply, he may realize that at this point in the game there is only so much more he can do to further guide Harry through the labyrinth of dangers and choices he must face. His role may be coming to an end and his regret at any mistakes he has made along the way may wear more heavily on him because of it.
Will Dumbledore live through the end of the series? As Harry’s mentor he has been absolutely vital to Harry’s continued safety and growth so far. But the closer Harry comes to maturity, both emotionally and magically, the less necessary Dumbledore is to the storyline. Indeed, in literature the death or loss of one’s mentor often marks the passage into independent adulthood. It is a turning point where all that the young hero has learned until then must be tested and found either worthy or lacking. No hero figure can completely come of age while his mentor still remains in the story. While Harry has come a long, long way in his magical abilities, and even in his emotional makeup, there is still much he must learn. So, for now, I think Dumbeldore will remain.
If he is to take his leave from us I believe it will have to wait until some other momentous event has taken place in Harry’s life and Harry has processed his feelings about it. The death of a mentor usually leaves a hero feeling unsure of himself and sometimes so distraught that his future success is questionable. The stakes in the HP storyline are so large–the continued existence of the free world, both magical and Muggle–that I feel Harry will have to have regained, and continue to retain, enough chutzpah to hang on despite the shock of Dumbledore’s demise. Harry has lost so much already in his young life it only seems appropriate that he be closer to self-confident maturity than he currently is before his protector/teacher departs.
There is also the possibility that Dumbledore may at some point face the choice of laying down his own life voluntarily to protect Harry, rather than die in a duel or battle situation. If Nicolas Flamel was indeed Dumbledore’s mentor, his voluntary departure in Book 1 may foreshadow a similar decision by Dumbledore, perhaps in Book 7. Flamel had continued to live to the age of 666 (or more) thanks to the Sorcerer’s Stone. When it became apparent that the Stone was too much a temptation to the immortality-obsessed Voldemort, Flamel volunteered to destroy it and, thus, end his own life. As was required by his own possible mentor, so Dumbledore may have to do as well.
But as Harry’s own continued existence is also in doubt by the end of Book 7, perhaps the death of his mentor would be a moot point and Dumbledore will survive him. Dumbledore seems to understand much of what Voldemort did in order to make himself as close to immortal as possible. He also seems to understand more of what went wrong with the process than Voldemort does. If Harry is indeed the one slated for death, especially if it is a symbolic death of transformation rather than a true physical death, Dumbledore’s presence may continue to be vital. He may need to be present to assist in such a transformation, to supply a catalyst that will enable Harry to survive it and start life anew. Such an act on Dumbledore’s part may even entail sacrificing himself so that Harry may live on, in whatever form he survives the vanquishing of the Dark Lord. Should that be the case, who can say what attributes Harry may gain from Dumbledore’s self-sacrifice, even as he loses those imparted through Voldemort’s failed death curse so many years ago. Who can say? Well, JKR of course.
However she pulls all the loose threads together, I can hardly wait to watch her genius unfold. No doubt whatever form it takes will be brilliant. Even if Dumbeldore does pass through the veil, I’ll still be very grateful to Ms. Rowling for having given us the chance to know him. Albus Dumbledore – what a guy!