The Missing 24 Hours: What Was Dumbledore Doing After Lily and James’s Death?
Over the years, there have been many theories about what happened between the time that the Potters were killed on the evening of October 31 and the time that Harry was left on the Dursley’s doorstep on the night of November 1. Why did it take Hagrid almost 24 hours to bring Harry from Godric’s Hollow to Privet Drive? What was Dumbledore doing during this time? When asked about this missing time, J.K. Rowling admitted, “I’m gonna have to really go back through notes, and either admit I’ve lost 24 hours, or, I don’t know, hurriedly come up with some back story to fill it.” Rowling, however, has never given any more information about this missing plot, so in lieu of a canonical explanation, I will do my best to present a plausible theory.
We know that Lily and James died on October 31, presumably in the early evening since one-year-old Harry was still awake and playing with his father. Rowling has said that Dumbledore placed an enchantment on the house so that he would be informed immediately if Lily and James died. Dumbledore was most likely presiding over the Halloween feast at the time of the attack and probably swiftly excused himself (without real explanation) to go figure out what had happened.
Although Rowling has not said this, I believe Dumbledore must have placed another enchantment on the house, something like a Muggle security camera to watch what happened. Dumbledore seems to have a remarkable knowledge of the events of that night, and every decision he makes in the next 24 hours relies on him knowing from the outset that Lily sacrificed herself for Harry and that this defeated Voldemort.
Other than Dumbledore, the first people to notice that Voldemort was defeated were probably his Death Eaters. At least by the evidence seen in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, their Dark Marks most likely disappeared, and many of their former allies emerged from the Imperius Curse. Therefore, Snape was probably one of the first to understand what had happened and went straight to Dumbledore to get more information.
At this point, Dumbledore probably sends Hagrid to Godric’s Hollow (maybe by Thestral), telling him to take care of baby Harry until he sends more information. Dumbledore then stays at the castle to explain the situation to Snape and ensure that he’s committed to Harry’s protection. He may decide to use Snape as a spy to find information that could be used to imprison vulnerable Death Eaters. Afterward, Dumbledore goes straight to Privet Drive to envoke the blood magic to protect Harry and sends Hagrid a letter telling him to bring Harry to number four the following night.
Next, Dumbledore goes to the Ministry to explain to them at least some of the details of Voldemort’s defeat, and he convinces the Minister that Harry should be sent to his aunt and uncle instead of taken in by wizards. The rest of the day, he helps the Minister make decisions related to the International Statute of Secrecy and how to catch fleeing Death Eaters (with covert help from Snape). He may also go to find his old friend Arabella Figg and see if she would be willing to move to Privet Drive to keep an eye on Harry.
Meanwhile, Hagrid has arrived at Godric’s Hollow and takes Harry out of the ruins just before the neighborhood Muggles start to arrive. Sirius soon turns up, leaving the motorbike with Hagrid before going off to track down Peter. Several members of the Ministry of Magic arrive, including a few Healers from St. Mungo’s who look Harry over to make sure that he is healthy. There are Aurors swarming around, trying to figure out if there’s any indication of what happened to Voldemort, and Ministry officials modify the memories of the Muggles who are traumatized by seeing an exploded house appear out of nowhere.
During the night, McGonagall has been left at Hogwarts with no explanation of what’s going on and only rumors from the outside world trickling in. She tries to get in touch with Dumbledore but gets no response. She realizes that Hagrid is not at Hogwarts either and sends him a Patronus asking where Dumbledore is. He doesn’t know, but he says that Dumbledore is going to meet him at Privet Drive that evening.
I think that Dumbledore could have easily spent a whole 24 hours putting out fires at the Ministry and invoking protective enchantments, and I’m guessing that he told Hagrid to wait until the evening to travel – both to give himself time to address important issues and to avoid having Hagrid fly across Britain in broad daylight. After dealing with Ministry officials, I’m guessing that Hagrid brought Harry to Bathilda Bagshot’s house and played games with him until it was finally time to bring him to the Dursleys.
Thank you to the members of the Facebook group Fandom Chat: Hosted by MuggleNet who came up with many creative theories to explain this gap in the timeline, some of which were adapted for this article.