The Two-Way Mirror #20: Time Mysteries, Part 2: Dumbledore’s Delay

by Daniela

I discussed in my last editorial the suspicious statement Dumbledore makes after Harry’s ordeal in The Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone:

No sooner had I reached London than it became clear to me that the place I should be was the one I had just left. I arrived just in time to pull Quirrell off you-

(SS/PS Ch. 17 “The Man with Two Faces”).

I think I managed to solve that mystery. I can’t, however, satisfactorily solve the second one.

Dumbledore’s statement to Harry after his ordeal in The Goblet of Fire is nearly identical to the one he makes in the first book:

The moment he took you, I knew – and I followed.

(GoF Ch. 35 “Veritaserum.”)

In this case, too, Dumbledore took too long to arrive, considering that this time he knew immediately that Harry was in dangerous hands.

The structures of Dumbledore’s two statements about his timing are parallel. The first begins with “No sooner” and the second begins with “The moment“. There follows a realization: “it became clear to me” and “I knew“. Then Dumbledore takes action, bodily moving towards Harry: “I arrived just in time to pull Quirrell off you“; “and I followed.” Note there is even an interrupting “dash” in both sentences, both times linked to Dumbledore’s movement, and we sleuths have learned that these dashes can mean crucial information is being withheld.

There is another major parallel between these two incidents: Dumbledore saves Harry both times at the last minute from a DADA professor working for Voldemort, a man with two faces: Quirrellmort and Moody Crouch. Only the first and fourth books correspond to each other this way, and the parallel is reinforced by Dumbledore’s analogous timing statements.

I think Rowling created this parallel for a reason, which I think is to raise questions about Dumbledore’s timing. Perhaps we can solve the second mystery like the first one, but why does Rowling want us to ask these questions about Dumbledore and time?

At first glance, it may seem easier to explain Dumbledore’s timing in GoF because we are dealing with minutes of delay, not hours. I don’t think it took over an hour for Crouch to lead Harry to his office, give him some Pepper-Up potion, interview him, rage about worthless Death Eaters, and tell him to prepare to die. But I do think it took around a good half hour. What makes the GoF mystery difficult to solve is not the length of the delay, but the fact that there was a delay at all. Dumbledore was on the school grounds and saw Harry being taken away with his own eyes. What then detained him that he did not follow right away?

Dumbledore does not say he followed immediately. He says he knew immediately and followed: “I knew – and I followed.” And that dash tells us something happened in between his realization and his leaving in Harry’s direction, something that is left unsaid.

The author offers us some possible down-to-earth answers. First, because of Cedric’s death, we know Dumbledore needed to talk to Cedric’s parents; it is for this reason that he left Harry’s side. Second, since he shows up with Snape and McGonagall, he may have needed additional time to round them up. However, if you were Dumbledore and saw the enemy leaving with Harry, would you have taken another twenty minutes to comfort the Diggorys? Would you have spent more time after that looking for backup? If Dumbledore could take on Voldemort single-handed to save Harry in OotP, why would he need to look for help to take on Crouch in GoF?

Unless Dumbledore is some kind of omniscient god, he should not be taking risks with the amount of time he lets Harry be in the enemy’s hands. In fact, he did the same in OotP, when he let Harry leave with Bellatrix. He had already imprisoned the other Death Eaters when Harry took off after Bellatrix, or so the text seems to suggest since Bellatrix seemed to be the only one still free. Why did it take Dumbledore twenty minutes or so to join Harry upstairs? Then again, that also applies to Lupin, who was perfectly capable of walking, and only shouted but didn’t follow. In fact, we might go back as far as Snape and wonder why it took him something like seven hours to send the Order after Harry. But I think the mystery of Dumbledore’s timing is intentional, and that we are bound to find an interesting answer to it.

Dumbledore’s timing in the first and fourth books is foregrounded by the puzzling statements he makes. I think that means Rowling wants us to ask questions about time in relation to Dumbledore. And time mysteries in Potterverse could very well be related to time travel or something else as magic.

One of the very first things we learn about Dumbledore is that he has an interesting “golden watch”: “It was a very odd watch. It had twelve hands but no numbers; instead, little planets were moving around the edge” (SS/PS Ch. 1). Dumbledore also comments appreciatively on Mrs. Weasley’s clock: “…that excellent clock of hers…” (OotP Ch. 22). I don’t think Rowling chose to put this comment in Dumbledore’s mouth for no reason.

It is Dumbledore who at the last minute in PoA told Harry and Hermione that they needed “more time,” implying that Hermione should use the time-turner. It wasn’t Hermione who had the idea on her own. Of course, “no one is supposed to change time” and the headmaster’s authority feels needed to take such action, but it is Rowling who wrote the story that way. I find it significant that she made it Dumbledore’s advice. It even seems in the book that Dumbledore knew something ahead of time when he kept the executioner behind with form signing technicalities. I am sure Rowling wanted us to ask how much Dumbledore knew the first time around and how.

Just as Hermione’s suspicious schedule in PoA hid behind it a mystery that came in useful later, Dumbledore’s timing mysteries may be hints dropped by the author that he is up to something involving time that in the end will play a crucial role. Dumbledore seems knowledgeable enough about time-turners when he tells Hermione that “three turns should do it” (PoA Ch. 21 “Hermione’s Secret”). Surely he has used a time-turner before. In fact, it makes sense that he should have done it quite a few times and experienced on his own skin the extent of the danger before he advised two children to do the same.

There are other more symbolic hints that there may be a time mystery associated with Dumbledore. His Hogwarts robes, like his interesting watch, look like the night sky covered with stars and moons. I think Rowling wants us to associate the universe with Dumbledore. That could be because there is something godly about him, but I wonder, since his watch hands also depict the universe, if there is a more concrete plot-oriented reason for these images. How does Dumbledore’s timing secret relate to astronomy?

I wonder what do wizards do with their knowledge of astronomy? Are they behind Muggles, or ahead, or it’s not comparable? Astronomy is one of the basic courses taught at Hogwarts. But what is the use of the subject other than divination? And we know how much value wizards place on divination (I’m not talking about the “prophecies” recorded in the DoM). Anyway, in addition to astronomy being a mysteriously important subject, and Dumbledore wearing the sky on his robes, the ceiling of the Hogwarts Great Hall is bewitched to look like the sky, and now there is an additional room in the castle that is bewitched to look like the night sky, the one in which Firenze teaches. In fact, the astronomy point was really driven home in SS/PS with the centaurs’ repetition “Mars is bright tonight.” In the Department of Mysteries too, there is an Astronomy room with revolving planets. What in the world are they studying there? What is the importance of all this star gazing?

I think the name of the astronomy teacher may also be suggestive of mysterious space and time travel. Sinistra is derived from a Latin word that means both “unlucky” (sinister means ominous, foreboding evil: the divination part of her name) and “to the left” (perhaps the more “scientific” aspect).

On a timeline (time being a concept related to astronomy and the cyclical movements of planets) the future is represented going to the right and the past to the left. The name Sinistra draws our attention to the concept of a certain direction in time and space: left or counterclockwise and past. Interestingly, the Arithmancy teacher’s name, Vector, also suggests direction. A vector is a quantity that indicates both amount and direction (e.g. velocity is speed + direction). I think our Arithmancy teacher’s name might be related to our Astronomy teacher’s name. Rowling doesn’t tell us what Arithmancy is used for in Potterverse, but the word means divination by numbers. So both the astronomy and Arithmancy teachers are in fields associated with divination, and both their names are suggestive of the concept of “direction.” And direction is associated with travel. What is the significance of the concept of “direction” in space and time travel?

Dumbledore, who appears to be the personification of Astronomy, may also be moving in mysterious directions and doing some strange measurements and calculations involving space and time. Snape tells Harry in OotP: “Time and space matter in magic, Potter.” Might there be more behind this statement? (Thanks, Muggleharte).

There is another symbolic reason I wonder if Dumbledore has a special connection to the mystery of time. In the Time Room in the DoM, there was a bell jar that fascinated Ginny. It showed a bird that grew from egg to chick to adult bird and then back to chick and to egg and so on to no end. We have seen a bird go through the baby and adult cycles of life repeatedly, and that is Fawkes, Dumbledore’s pet. But the bird inside the crystal bell jar is not a Phoenix. It is a hummingbird. And I remember that Rowling gave Dumbledore his name because she imagines him humming: “Dumbledore is an old English word meaning bumblebee. Since Albus Dumbledore is very fond of music, I always imagined him sort of humming to himself a lot” (Rowling Interview 1999). Note also that a hummingbird is minuscule, although bigger than a bumblebee, and acts in fact somewhat like bees, entering flowers to feed on their nectar… Is Rowling’s choice of bird in the bell jar a clue about a time mystery related to Dumbledore?

I don’t think the story of time travel that was introduced in PoA is over yet. The kids discover a Time Room in the Department of Mysteries, and so much action takes place in that room that I think the concept is still important. In fact, in Harry’s dreams, there were two steps to get to the prophecy room from the entrance hall: Round Entrance Room => Time Room => Prophecy Room. If only symbolically the mystery of time is nearly as important in Harry’s progress as the mystery of the prophecy.

But what is there still to discover?

Is Dumbledore time-traveling? I don’t know. I don’t understand his delay in GoF, and Rowling attracted our attention to it. I would like to know what that dash means in “I knew – and I followed.” Suppose Dumbledore time-traveled. It could be that he landed a bit far from the scene spatially but maybe ahead temporally when he went back into the past and that caused his delay. Hermione shows up at the last minute in some of the classes to which she is time-traveling in PoA, and once she ends up at the bottom of the stairs although she was originally at the top right behind Harry and Ron. Perhaps Dumbledore “followed immediately” but then took some “time out” to deal with other urgent issues that came up on the way and then went back to “following immediately”, and only miscalculated a bit where he landed.

Then again, maybe it is not time travel, but a different space/time mystery that is associated with Dumbledore. The room in the DoM had more than time turners in it. Perhaps there is more that we can find out about the mystery of time, about the use of astronomy, and about Dumbledore’s secrets.

It may all come down to Dumbledore’s Watch, about which there is an interesting thread in the CoS Forums. Posters in the forum have speculated that the watch may serve several functions among which telling time, turning time, turning both space and time, making astrological observations, keeping track of Harry, or of Dumbledore’s time-traveling self (or selves), or of the time necessary for different tasks, or of the level of danger at different points, or of the success of various operations. The poster Sinistra noticed that using this watch could lead to some miscalculations, which I think would explain Dumbledore’s “just in time” arrivals: “If it’s a long-range time turner, placing the planets where they were at a particular place and time would be one way to go back further than a few hours (as Hermione did with her time-turner). Of course you would have to be very careful to get it right, or you could be a long time off from when you wanted to be.

Some people feel that Dumbledore can’t be time-traveling, because he would not keep such a big secret from Harry, especially at the end of OotP, if it somehow concerns Harry. There are also problems created by Dumbledore’s time-traveling ability. He should have no problem turning back time and showing up early rather than at the last minute to save Harry. I explained Dumbledore’s timing in my last editorial in a down-to-earth fashion. But what would have kept Dumbledore from turning time the moment he got to London so that he could return to the moment he left Hogwarts and not “just in time” to pull Quirrell off Harry? As we see in PoA, time-turning takes you to the place as well as the time where you were previously. This would have saved Dumbledore the long thestral ride back. (Actually, it was bizarre that Harry and Hermione ended up in a closet where they had never been before, but still, it was close to where they passed at that hour). It could be that, because of the dangers involved, Dumbledore doesn’t interfere with time on a regular basis, only when he has strong reason to believe that there is no other way.

I think we can count on seeing more time travel in the future. Someone has asked Rowling if Harry will time travel again, and she answered very tantalizingly, “Not telling!” (AOL Online Chat 2000). I hope that besides more time travel, we will also have a concrete answer to Dumbledore’s timing mysteries.

P.S. There may be a Time Mysteries Part 3 if HBP doesn’t render that editorial obsolete.

P.P.S. I would like to thank Muggleharte and Karima for generously reading my editorial and providing me with insightful feedback. Thanks also to Muggleharte for all the interesting and inspiring reading materials!