The Absence of Fawkes: Why I Believe Dumbledore Chose to Die, or ‘Choice Over Fate’
We must honor the dearly departed headmaster in the greatest means we can: though it may not seem so, Dumbledore did NOT succumb to fate; he defiantly chose to die. Nuthin’ like puttin’ it righ’ out there, eh?
Before you write me off as a quack, let me explain. I was reading HBP like everyone else: drop-jawed from 12:01, 16 July to midnight, 17 July [almost literally – I kept to my baby-rearing duties]. At the end of it, I was poring over the scene at the end, when of course Dumbledore dies by that scum-git Snape’s spell. No, I thought. He HAS to come back. Snape was just playing…. He didn’t come back. Snape wasn’t playing.
Of course, I had it all explained away: Snape was innocent, this was all according to plan, etc. I was going through the stages of grief, and denial was rampant in my mind. But as much as I denied it, Dumbledore was still dead at the end of HBP.
Then how can I say that Dumbledore chose to die?
What caused my mind’s eye to consider this possibility was a very conspicuous absence: Fawkes. Every time we read of him leading up to The Death, Fawkes was sad, somber: he cried in a sad, somber way as if he knew Dumbledore was not long for the world. We read about Fawkes’ lament when he sang of his… master? Help-mate? Friend? But he didn’t rescue him as was done the previous June. And that troubled me. Greatly. A particularly mysterious aspect of Fawkes’ absence was Dumbledore’s pleading and fear at Snape’s betrayal – yes, betrayal. (I think the editorial Snape Is Evil says it all.) Then it hit me: Dumbledore chose to die.
This led me to ask myself the following five questions:
- Why would Dumbledore choose to die?
- Is there evidence of advance notice to Dumbledore to warrant such a choice?
- What evidence is there that he was preparing, pre- or post-parting, to choose?
- What evidence is there that he made such a choice?
- Did Dumbledore choose how he died?
1. Why would Dumbledore choose to die?
Do I, as the author of this article, even have a right to say that Dumbledore chose to die? The answer to both questions was given by Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, at Harry’s bedside: much like the sentiment he gave for his friend Flamel, I believe Dumbledore would welcome death. At 150 years of age, after a life full of learning, pressure, struggle, conflict, war, leadership, and being responsible for an entire organization in mortal peril, death would certainly be much like going to bed after a really long day. Furthermore, Dumbledore said, “to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” Who has a mind more organized than A.P.W.B.D?
Again, the series is full of people choosing to die. Harry’s father chose his sacrifice. Harry’s mother chose hers. Sirius chose to leave headquarters. Lupin and Sirius told Wormtail he should have chosen to die rather than betray his friends. Of course, Dumbledore, as the once-upon-a-time leader of all of them, would have chosen to be numbered as one of the brave, the defiant, the dignified, who died in the war against Voldemort.
2. Is there evidence of advance notice to Dumbledore to warrant such a choice?
Looking back, I believe Dumbledore felt his own frailty – nay, mortality – at the end of Harry’s fifth year. I believe he understood more than ever his own humanity at that time. Harry himself saw Dumbledore, not as a wizarding giant, but a (relatively) frail, old man. I believe Dumbledore felt his mortality completely then, perhaps for the first time in his long life. Before that occurred, I don’t think anything could touch him, bring him as low, as the emotional struggle he endured caring for Harry. What’s more, Dumbledore was a man of DEEP reflection. He would have been very meditative about his fray with Voldemort that year. He would have realized that he wasn’t only afraid for Harry-he would have seen that, since Harry is the only one to kill Voldemort, he would be yet another person who would stand up for, and get in the way of, Harry’s fight when Voldemort came ’round for the final call…and he would fall because he wasn’t ‘The One.’
Pardon me, but there is also the rather large foreshadowing in the form of his dead right hand. I don’t believe this was specific foreshadowing, inasmuch as telling he would die due to offensive magic. It’s just that people kept saying stuff like, “reactions aren’t what they used to be, eh?” Yet he never seemed to be very “concerned” about it – almost as if he knew he wouldn’t have needed that hand much longer.
There is also the Head Professor in Dumbledore, which would understand the cycle of life more than most. Scientific research tells us we remember 5% of what we hear, 30% of what we read, but 95% of what we teach.
Dumbledore generally taught Harry about Horcruxes. Dumbledore, without going into detail, would have understood fully what a Horcrux was, how to go about one, what they would mean to the wizard that committed the atrocious acts. Furthermore, in studying and performing deadly magic, he would have come very close to death. He himself finished off Grindelwald in 1945. Did he study? Oh, yes. Dumbledore needed not the definition of Horcruxes from Slughorn, he needed the number of horcruxes Voldemort prepared himself to commit. Dumbledore already knew about them. And in so learning, he would have come very close to understanding that his own life is precious, yet timely, itself.
Read through HBP again. See whether Dumbledore is his usual humming self all the time. As the year progresses, he loses the humming. In the end, he is gasping. A sad, sad, sad event.
3. What evidence is there that he was preparing, either pre- or post-parting?
For those that cannot yet face the grim details, I am sorry. Perhaps you should come back to this editorial after a while.
Trivially, Trelawney kept predicting trouble and strife to Dumbledore. Harry witnesses her drunken gait in the hallway, muttering about spades and conflict, how “it” is always the same. For those that believe in Tarot, and for those that don’t, a set of divination principles all pointing to one conclusion no matter how many times you do it is a HUGE sign. Of course, we see that Dumbledore abhors prophecy, believing that if you set store by one, you force it to come true. I believe it is VERY possible that Trelawney had a third prophecy come from her, one made to Dumbledore and Dumbledore alone, one that he didn’t want to hear, and one that he didn’t heed.
On a more canon note: McGonagall announced in the Head’s office that Dumbledore’s wishes were to be buried on the grounds. This shows Dumbledore was fully aware that he would die; he chose to have this conversation with her. One may argue that she was Deputy Headmistress, this would be her job. No…I irascibly disagree. He could have left that detail to the gubernatorial robes in charge of running the school, but instead, he chose a friend. By her tone and anxiety, I believe Minerva was fully prepared to carry out this function, but she was definitely not ready to lose her friend.
Secondly, Dumbledore, surely being a man of action, spent the larger portion of Harry’s sixth year grooming those around him for different leadership tasks, and spending time with those he loved. He was bodily absent from the school grounds for days, weeks at a time. Some would speculate he was ONLY looking for Horcruxes; I disagree. It’s highly likely he may have done so most of the time, but as he didn’t know the number before Harry retrieved Slughorn’s memory, how would he just go chasing after different articles if he didn’t know why or if they would be there? Rather, I believe Dumbledore was spending time with people as he did with Harry: showing crucial material to them so his knowledge, expertise, ability, and decision-making viewpoint would not pass away completely when he did. How can I say this? He groomed Harry for destroying the Horcruxes. He groomed McGonagall to take care of his effects after he died. He made the HQ shift to the Burrow; the Weasleys he most assuredly saw on a greater scale. Surely, surely he groomed others than these. Perhaps they didn’t foresee his death or didn’t see his future death as a/the reason he was doing this, but I believe it happened nonetheless.
Beyond that, I believe he spent his remaining time seeking out those he loved. How he loved Harry! We saw it in OotP. He made sure Harry was prepared for Voldemort, not just because Harry was the ‘chosen one’ to defeat Voldemort, but because he loved him. How he loved McGonagall! Not romantically; JKR seals that in the Mugglenet/Leaky Cauldron interview when she said he never had an equal. But the love he had for her was deep still – after 40 years of close professional and Order ties, their friendship would have been granite-solid. Hagrid, Lupin, Tonks… who else? Who else would he have sought out to make sure they were ready for the tasks they faced without him?
4. What evidence is there that he made the choice?
Let us examine two oppositely detailed battle situations with Dumbledore.
NUMBER ONE – The witnesses: Bellatrix, Harry, Dumbledore, and Voldemort. The place: the Ministry of Magic Atrium. The event: Dumbledore and Voldemort’s duel. Voldemort sends a killing curse at Dumbledore the instant he turns a snake on him. A flash of fire! Fawkes devours the curse and saves Dumbledore.
NUMBER TWO – The witnesses: hidden Harry, snakelike Snape, wavering Draco, a handful of Dumbledore-hating Death Eaters. The place: Hogwart’s astronomy tower. The event: Snape’s betrayal. Dumbledore pleads with Snape. Snape says “Avada kedavra!” Dumbledore dies.
Fawkes could have come to Dumbledore as he did at the Atrium to the Ministry. He could have appeared in front of Snape the way he did in front of the Basilisk when Riddle stood gloating over Harry (how strikingly similar a passage, no?). He could have appeared this time, blinded everyone with a flash of fire, retrieved Dumbledore’s wand and returned it to him, pecked out Snape’s eyes, rounded on Draco, and saved the day…but he didn’t. Fawkes was absent. I believe this is the final evidence that Dumbledore chose to die. He’d had a conversation with Fawkes, which was why Fawkes was sad the entire book: don’t come to my aid. If it’s time for me to die, it’s time for me to die. A hero. A leader. A man who didn’t bow to death. A man in control of his mind, his heart, his life. Such was the man of the name Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.
5. Did Dumbledore choose how he died?
After my premier reading of the HBP, I had invented all these conspiracies about Dumbledore knowing about Snape’s Unbreakable Vow, how he intimately knew about Draco’s project, how he intended to be gone the very night Draco finished fixing the vanishing cabinet, how he wanted Harry to witness the event, on and on and on. Quite faithfully (and horribly pathetic), I didn’t want Dumbledore to be vulnerable in mind, as Harry hated him for being vulnerable in that dramatic scene in OotP. I didn’t want him to die in a way he wasn’t fully prepared for. As I said at first, I was in full-blown denial.
Do I believe Dumbledore chose to die? Most definitely. All the evidence stacks up to it. Do I believe Dumbledore chose how he died? Not on his life.
Once, I had a theory that involved Dumbledore keeping tabs on Draco via Snape, and how Dumbledore would have cleverly and strategically died to keep Snape and Harry alive. Then I read a MuggleNet article asking, “what’s the point?” Who benefits if Dumbledore dies? Only Voldemort. Be sure to read in Book Seven of rampant magic from which wizards, witches, and Muggles die in abhorrent, gruesome public displays because of Dumbledore’s death. No benefit to anyone will come of Dumbledore’s tragic demise. And the spirit with which they will carry on the carnage! “We killed Dumbledore! We killed Dumbledore!” I can hear it now. Woe, woe, woe to the people of Potterverse.
Pointing to canon, we see that Dumbledore didn’t know. “Severus…” I see Dumbledore cocking his head slightly to one side in his fear as if to say, aren’t you going to heal and defend me? Won’t you do the right thing? Then he says, “Severus, please…” Dumbledore is pleading. PLEADING. Not because he is afraid to die. Oh, no. Dumbledore is above the fear of death. Rather, he is afraid because he knows what it will mean to Harry, to McGonagall, and to the rest of those he knows who love him. He is afraid because he knows the Dark side will use it to their advantage. They will use it in despicable glee. He is afraid because he realizes he was wrong. As he said to Harry, his mistakes are correspondingly huger.
Concretely, over many readings of the last few chapters of HBP, I saw that NO ONE expected Snape to kill Dumbledore. Hagrid denied it outright. McGonagall swooned. Lupin fell back in his chair, overcome and speechless. These were his closest, most trusted friends; if Dumbledore didn’t tell them in advance about Snape’s apparent treachery, then it wasn’t merely for show; it was real. Snape is as evil as I feared him to be, way back when I thought he caused Harry’s scar to hurt after Harry’s Sorting in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
What it ultimately means: when he dies, Dumbledore realizes HQ (Number 12 Grimmauld Place) will be open to attack. Hogwarts will be open to a greater threat because the magic he cast to protect it will be gone. The Burrow will likewise be up for grabs. All the Order’s agents’ identities will be made known to Voldemort because Snape won’t have an excuse not to give them up. All the locations, plots, families, children, everything the Order relied on, will be laid bare to Voldemort, through the snakelike Snape. The war was full-on before; now our heroes are out of the frying pan, into the path of a Hungarian Horntail. Some of the spells and enchantments Dumbledore kept surely were replaced immediately. But knowledge, plans, secrets Severus may have kept back to maintain his ruse, Snape will certainly divulge now.
Dumbledore would be of the caliber to choose to die. Philosophically, he was prepared. Personally, he was grooming others to take over. Practically, he chose not to have Fawkes save him. Pityingly, he did not choose how he died; how many of us can? But he chose, and in so choosing he maintained his dignity and polite manner throughout his last days, unto his last breath.
Once upon a time, there was a man called Dumbledore. One year, his manly right hand died. At the end of that year, he died by his right-hand man. This was the story of “Dumbledore’s Choice Over Fate.”