Who’s Keeping Secrets?

by Lady Lupin

Dumbledore left much unsaid. So many questions to which he alone possessed the answers have remained unexplained thus far in the series, and now one wonders how they will ever be resolved. I am not speaking here of the tasks that Harry must accomplish. I refer to the information that we, the reader, know is important, but which Harry either does not know to be significant or hasn’t figured out how to find. We have pondered what the answers to these questions could be. However, one must first ask, where will Harry go to find the answers? How will he learn what to ask of whom? Harry alludes to this when he reflects at the end of HBP that there was so much that he never asked his Headmaster. I wonder also which of Dumbledore’s many mysteries will turn out to be pertinent to Harry and which ones will not.

What are some of the secrets that Dumbledore guarded with such care? There are many things that we don’t know about Albus Dumbledore and his goings on. Which of these might be pertinent to Harry’s adventure? Following is a partial list of “things we don’t know about Dumbledore.” Also included are things Dumbledore seemed to know about life and magic that Harry hasn’t yet been told or learned:

  • Why did he trust Snape?
  • What was behind that gleam of triumph?
  • How exactly was his arm injured?
  • How did he destroy the Ring Horcrux?
  • What was he doing during the “Lost Day,” after James and Lily’s murders?
  • How did he know about Lily’s sacrifice, when she stood between Harry and Voldemort? In fact, if he wasn’t at Godric’s Hollow, how did he know Lily was given a choice to live? And if he was at Godric’s Hollow, why did he never tell Harry?
  • What is (are) the other way(s) to destroy a man besides death?
  • How did he defeat Grindelwald?
  • What are the twelve uses of dragon blood?
  • What did he learn about Alchemy?
  • What is his relationship to Aberforth like?
  • What was his bloodline and heritage?
  • How did he learn so many special powers – like those we saw in the cave?
  • What were Dumbledore’s communications with Petunia?
  • How did Dumbledore end up with James’ invisibility cloak?
  • What was that spell he tried on Voldemort at the Ministry?
  • How did he get that scar that is shaped like the London Underground?
  • How and when did he acquire Fawkes, and what was behind their special relationship?
  • How did Dumbledore use Fawkes to disappear from inside Hogwarts in OotP? (It looked very much like assisted Apparition.)
  • Where did he go during CoS and OotP after leaving Hogwarts?
  • What did he do before becoming a professor at Hogwarts?
  • Did he leave Hogwarts to destroy Grindelwald, or did he defeat Grindelwald while serving as Transfiguration Professor? How did he destroy Grindelwald, and did Grindelwald have a Horcrux?
  • What did Dumbledore see in that cave, while drinking the potion?
  • What was the “delicate silver instrument” that showed the puffs of smoke and prompted Dumbledore’s inscrutable remark, “… but in essence divided?” What was the message of the two entwined snakes? Was it simply confirming the connection between Harry and Voldemort or is there something more?
  • If Harry is a Horcrux (IF), why didn’t Dumbledore consider the possibility? Dumbledore knew more about the Horcruxes than almost anyone else, he knew of the connection between Harry and Voldemort and he knew that Harry must destroy the Horcruxes and then go after Voldemort. Why would he not try to prepare or help Harry to find a solution to this potential dilemma?
  • How can Dumbledore become invisible without a cloak?
  • How did he learn to cast spells without a wand and how unique is this talent?
  • Could he see through Harry’s invisibility cloak, or did he sense the magic of the cloak the way he seemed to sense things in the cave in HBP?

The list could go on and on. Some of these details will prove fruitless dead ends, and some will be pertinent to Harry’s adventure. What resources might Harry tap to answer the questions that turn out to be vital?

The Pensieve

I have heard a few ideas about how Harry will gain the needed knowledge. The Pensieve is the most popular theory (at least among Spinner’s End readers), and it does make sense. We have visited the Pensieve in the past three books, and its importance has grown over time. In GoF, it showed Harry information that helped him (and us) to understand past events that pertained to mysteries surrounding his immediate challenges. He learned about Ludo Bagman, Igor Karkaroff, Bellatrix and the Death Eaters, as well as the story of Barty Crouch, Jr. In OotP, Harry’s relationship with the Pensieve became more personal, as it showed him his parents, and shattered his previous pictures of who they were (and also who Snape was). In HBP, the Pensieve was elevated to primary plot device. The memories in the Pensieve, Dumbledore’s as well as those that he and Harry accessed from others, were the principal tool by which Harry continued to prepare for his larger task: the vanquishing of Lord Voldemort.

The Pensieve certainly may appear again. There were new possibilities introduced in HBP supporting the idea that we aren’t done with it. I am referring principally to the revelation that a memory can be preserved in a bottle, even after the person who had that experience dies. We saw this with both Bob Ogden’s and Hokey’s memories, as well as Morfin’s. We saw the process of depositing a memory in such a receptacle as demonstrated by Horace Slughorn. It can, then, easily be argued that this is an indication that we aren’t through with the Pensieve, and it has been set up to show Harry (and us) Dumbledore’s memories, neatly bottled and labeled for Harry’s use.

There is so much logic to this idea that it’s hard to dispute, and it could well happen. However, my personal opinion is that we are dangerously close to overusing the Pensieve. I think that, as a literary device, much more Pensieve could be overkill. We spent a lot of HBP time in the Pensieve. I enjoyed it very much and was delighted to have this “fly on the wall” perspective of Tom Riddle’s youth. However, having Harry spend a lot of time there in Book Seven feels like a repeat of old action, and a bit too easy. Jo used about every possible description for the experience of taking us in and out of that Pensieve. Perhaps it will come into play for one major revelation of new knowledge, but it might be difficult to make such discoveries new and fresh to the reader. I would rather see Harry meet up with real people and real, current situations on his quest to defeat the Dark Lord.


Which brings us to another popular theory: Aberforth. I do agree with this one. Aberforth has been sitting on the sidelines, waiting for his turn to speak for the past two books. While his character, personality, loyalties and perspectives are all mysteries to us at this point, we know he is there and therefore must have his moment. It makes sense that knowledge of his brother’s plans, actions, history and even feelings would be a timely and believable contribution. I am very curious to see what relationship develops between Harry and Aberforth. I suspect it will be both illuminating and amusing.


We have also discussed Petunia as another source of information. We know she received correspondence from Dumbledore, before Harry was left on the Dursleys’ doorstep, and that she knows more of the wizarding world than she lets on. We know that there is more to her than we have yet seen, so she may shed light on some secret of Dumbledore’s. Harry isn’t focused on his aunt at the moment. Though he definitely noticed in OotP that she knew more about his world than he had previously thought, he doesn’t seem to recall this in HBP, and he makes no attempt to further the connection.

The Sleeping Headmasters

Speculation about Dumbledore’s portrait is interesting but less provocative, mainly because of JKR’s own words. In the Edinburgh Book Festival interview she tells us about the limitations inherent in talking portraits:

“They are all of dead people; they are not as fully realized as ghosts, as you have probably noticed. The place where you see them really talk is in Dumbledore’s office, primarily; the idea is that the previous headmasters and headmistresses leave behind a faint imprint of themselves. They leave their aura, almost, in the office and they can give some counsel to the present occupant, but it is not like being a ghost. They repeat catchphrases, almost. The portrait of Sirius’ mother is not a very 3D personality; she is not very fully realized. She repeats catchphrases that she had when she was alive. If Harry had a portrait of his parents it would not help him a great deal. If he could meet them as ghosts, that would be a much more meaningful interaction, but as Nick explained at the end of Phoenix-I am straying into dangerous territory, but I think you probably know what he explained-there are some people who would not come back as ghosts because they are unafraid, or less afraid, of death.”

This tells me that the kind of help that Dumbledore will be able to give McGonagall or Harry from his portrait in the Head’s office will have its limits.

Dumbledore’s Return

The idea that Dumbledore isn’t actually dead, and will come back himself to help Harry is the other major theory that has been getting much play. This is such a big issue and hot topic that it cannot be fully explored in the context of this article. I believe that even if (and this is a big ‘if’) Dumbledore is alive (and I am not saying he is), that revelation won’t come early enough in Book Seven to provide Harry with all of the answers he needs. I believe Harry will need other sources of information.

Fortunately, Harry has another source of information. He doesn’t think of this friend as a potential source of knowledge, yet. But he is. I am speaking of Dobby.

House-Elf Hints

A recent re-read of GoF showed me something I had previously missed, and could be a clue to one role for Dobby in Book Seven.

“‘Can’t house-elves speak their minds about their masters, then?’ Harry asked.‘Oh no, sir, no,’ said Dobby, looking suddenly serious. ‘T’is part of the house-elf’s enslavement, sir. We keeps their secrets and our silence, sir. We upholds the family’s honor, and we never speaks ill of them – though Professor Dumbledore told Dobby he does not insist upon this. Professor Dumbledore said we is free to – to – ‘

Dobby looked suddenly nervous and beckoned Harry closer. Harry bent forward. Dobby whispered, ‘he said we is free to call him a – a barmy old codger if we likes, sir!’

Dobby gave a frightened sort of giggle.

‘But Dobby is not wanting to, Harry Potter,’ he said, talking normally again, and shaking his head so that his ears flapped. ‘Dobby likes Professor Dumbledore very much, sir, and is proud to keep his secrets and our silence for him.’ (bold, my emphasis)
(380, GoF)

It would appear that Dobby is, indeed, in possession of at least some of Dumbledore’s secrets, and he has chosen to keep them. He is not bound by elf magic to do so, since he is a free elf and Dumbledore did not insist on it anyway. He tells us that he is proud to keep Dumbledore’s secrets. He does not say that he would be proud to keep them, but that he is proud. That indicates that he is already doing it, as early as GoF. How likely is Dobby to divulge the secrets now? I think it would depend on who wanted to know them and why.

Dobby has, of course, always been loyal and devoted to Harry. He is deeply grateful to Harry for setting him free by tricking Lucius Malfoy. But the extraordinary thing about Dobby is that he was loyal to Harry before Harry freed him, indeed, before he had ever met Harry.

Why would Dobby, a house-elf for his entire life, bound in duty and loyalty to the Malfoy family, commit his truest and deepest loyalty to Harry Potter? Because, deep within himself, Dobby is most loyal to what is right. His personal affection and loyalty to Harry came later. He first acted because he had to, in order to do what was right.

When Dobby first came to Privet Drive he was taking an enormous risk. The very best case scenario is that he would succeed in coming and going undetected by the Malfoys, and have to punish himself by ramming his head into a wall or ironing his ears or some other heinous castigation. That is the best he could hope for. The worst is unthinkable. Considering that Sirius’ Aunt Elladora was able to behead house elves for getting old, I am sure that there would be no Ministry official bearing down on Lucius for torturing, killing or otherwise mutilating a house-elf who left the Malfoy mansion without permission.

Dobby certainly lives up to Dumbledore’s test of choosing what is right over what is easy. I am not sure that I would have run to Hogwarts to try to chase Harry away from danger if it meant I would have to iron my hands afterward. Is there a Gryffindor House for elves?

So Dobby is not only loyal, grateful and devoted to Harry, but he is devoted to the cause of right. Given these priorities and values, wouldn’t Dobby do anything in his power to aid Harry, including telling him secrets entrusted to the elf by Dumbledore? I believe he would. The tricky part would be to create a clear enough communication between Harry and Dobby that Harry thinks to ask these questions. Dobby must be made aware that they are pertinent and that Harry needs the answers. Much in the way that Dobby revealed the nature and location of the Room of Requirement and the Gillyweed strategy to Harry, I think the revelation will come from Dobby overhearing or Harry telling Dobby of some problem or issue without any real hope that Dobby could help solve it.

The other interesting point in Dobby’s quote above is that he says he is proud to keep our silence. He doesn’t say, “my silence” or even, “his silence.” The latter would make more sense, given that Dobby always refers to himself if third person singular… but no. This passage is first person plural. Significant? I cannot say. Perhaps it’s an indication that all of the Hogwarts house-elves keep silent about Dumbledore’s secrets. If so, and if they choose to trust Harry, they might offer a tremendous amount of knowledge.

Some other, non-Dumbledore-related questions for Dobby:

  • How might Kreacher have used elf magic to get through the obstacles at the cave (if he did)?
  • What kind of elf magic might Dobby be able to offer to Harry’s cause as the Horcrux hunt moves forward?
  • Are there other secrets of the Malfoy family that could enlighten Harry on his quest?

Some of Dumbledore’s secrets are unlikely to be learned from Dobby. However, I think it’s possible that some of these or perhaps other mysteries can and will be solved by a clear, straight man-to-elf talk between Harry and Dobby.

The Wisdom of the Centaurs

It also seems that Firenze has a larger contribution to make to Harry’s adventures. Firenze, in his unfathomable way, may prove helpful in discerning the valid from the bogus. The difference between the wisdom of the Centaurs and the meanderings of Sybil Trelawney is like a comparison between a learned scientist/philosopher’s views of the universe, and the pre-recorded answer at 1-800-FORTUNE (if such a business exists). Firenze has been on the edges of Harry’s story since PS/SS. He came back to the forefront in OotP, and I believe he will have advice, help or other information for Harry. He was willing to aid Dumbledore and to stand against Voldemort, even when it meant being ostracized from his society and almost losing his life. He has shown himself a worthy ally for Harry. Did his special relationship with Dumbledore prompt the late Headmaster to share some of his secrets? If so, how will Harry reconnect and know to ask him?

It is interesting and very human of Harry that he is currently unable to see the many resources within his circle. Harry opened up a lot more in HBP, asking clear questions, being very straight and honest with people, and trying to get help when he needed it. Unfortunately, he ran into doubt, dismissal, and obstacles every time he tried to get to the bottom of a mystery. Ron and Hermione’s distractions and lack of interest in his concerns over Malfoy were particularly disheartening. And, whether he is correct in his assumptions or not, Harry now fully believes that even Dumbledore was seriously mistaken in his perceptions, and that he paid with his life. Let us hope that these events do not prevent Harry from reaching out to the many witches, wizards and creatures in his life. Between them all, there is a wealth of knowledge. But Harry must also be careful; he must play his hand very close to the vest. Offering too much information to the wrong person could be fatal. Yet, if Harry is to solve the many mysteries that lie before him he will need to have an efficient and reliable network of information. It seems that the potential sources are in place. Now what remains is for Harry to access them, listen to them and determine how to respond to what he learns.