Well, this essay has been sitting over in the UNhallowed collection for the last decade, but I’m no longer convinced that it needs to be.
The extrapolations in it weren’t necessarily wrong — although a few of them weren’t altogether on target— but any motivations and intentions ascribed to Albus Dumbledore clearly turn out to be a matter of personal choice. Over the period that this essay was developed (and the first iteration of it was part of the original collection which was uploaded in 2003) we were still being widely misled to regard AD as the epitome of “all that was good”.
He still isn’t actually evil. But he’s turned out to be a conceited, self-righteous, and self-indulgent old hypocrite. And, if anything, he’s an even bigger coward than Horace Slughorn. (Who at least doesn’t pretend to be anything else.)
And he really doesn’t learn from his mistakes. Because he keeps making the same ones over and over.
Where Severus Snape fell in with a bad lot and, in attempting to curry favor, made a horrendous mistake that ended in the death of someone he deeply cared about (even if she no longer cared for him), and then spent the following 16–17 years, i.e., the rest of his life, actively attempting to make at least some kind of amends, penitently taking direction from two masters who both had welshed on their promises to spare or to protect her, Albus Dumbledore got swept up into bad philosophy under a bad influence — which he actively supported and advanced — even to the point of trying to take control of the whole budding movement — ending in the death of someone for whom he was responsible (whether he deeply loved her or not. He may claim to value the concept of love, but he doesn’t seem to be very familiar with how the actual thing itself works), and spent the following 98 years taking direction from no one, declining to take personal responsibility for other people’s welfare, and attempting to do nothing at all for fear of doing something else wrong.
Still, I may be out of step with a lot of the revisionist views in that I still do not absolutely loathe Albus, but I’ve no longer got much respect for the man, and have come to think the whole whoop-de-do over his “great wisdom” is as bogus as Tom Riddle’s grandiose Muggle-style title. If anything, the most accurate label for Albus Dumbledore’ behaviour that I can think of, is something more along the lines of; “willful incompetence”.
Yes, yes, I’m sure that young Albus was once an academic and magical prodigy, but how often does the ability to dazzle the standard testing procedure translate to anything like an intelligence that’s fit for daily use? The kind of brilliance that excels in classrooms and fails at life is legendary. (And Rowling really doesn’t much seem to value actual intelligence in this story arc at all. The narriative’s whole outlook is about as anti-intellectual as you can get.)
Plus, of course, Rowling’s eventual deconstruction was vastly in excess of the requirements, which made her ultimate flip-flop of turning around and giving him a pass anyway all the more insulting to the reader. But that doesn’t mean that some level of deconstruction wasn’t necessary. It was. When dealing with the classic “mentor” figure of an coming-of-age adventure tale, such a deconstruction always is.
I’m inclined to think that what really needed deconstruction here wasn’t Albus’s intentions — which Rowling was determined to distract us with. It was his judgement. Looked at in retrospect we can all see that Albus’s track record is an absolute compendium of bad decisions, and wrong conclusions, going just about all the way back to the minute he left school. If not before.
Something that isn’t so obvious to the reader is that by the time Harry started Hogwarts Albus’s reputation was already very much in decline. But this certainly turned out to be the case. By 1991 I think most of the wizarding public’s veneration had dwindled to lip-service and only the fact that he was patronizing Fudge (and that Fudge allowed himself to be patronized) kept him in the game. His greatest fans had always been the people who had been dazzled by him when he was the shining new star, and how many of those were left? Others were the near-contemporaries who were used to living in his shadow, and those ranks were being thinned out by attrition as well. He had somehow quite failed to enlist more than a handful of followers from any of the generations of students who had known him only as Headmaster, and only a handful more who were of an age for him to have once taught. He’d been isolating himself at Hogwarts for so long that he didn’t even realize that he is on the brink of irrelevance.
Rita Skeeter called him an “obsolete dingbat”. Rita turns out to have been very much on the nose.
But, really, downstream of the closing of canon, while a lot of readers now are measuring him against Tom, and, I agree, that the comparison is not without some justification, I really do think the more relevant comparison is probably Slughorn. He and Albus are a matched pair of vain old popinjays who are both convinced that they know what is best for everyone else. But where it is blindingly obvious that Sluggy is weak, often foolish, and faintly ridiculous, far too many people still take Albus at his own estimation. Both of that pair are rather clever fools, but the reader somehow keeps looking past the obvious in Albus’s case, possibly because he does such a nice star turn at self-depreciation, which passes for modesty.
Ultimately Albus inadvertantly has probably done far more damage to the wizarding world overall than Horace has. Even when you factor in that unfortunate discussion with Tom Riddle that Harry had to pry out of Horace, and even though Albus clearly exerts himself far less on his favorites’ behalf than Horace does.
I suspect Horace also has a clearer view of how the ww really works and a much longer list of past protégés who are willing enough to keep in touch and to let him pull their strings for the benefit of his current crop of up-and-comers. Albus, on the other hand, tends to back losers who will never outgrow his “assistance”, or have any influence to “pass on,” and sooner or later the people in charge figure that out. Being one of Albus’s favorites is probably not a high recommendation. Given a choice in the matter, I think I’d invest in a stock of candied pineapple.
But no, having fallen in love with Gellert Grindelwald at the age of 18 is neither a convincing explanation for Albus’s failings of character, nor relevant to the situation at hand. It’s a complete non-sequitur and an unnecessary distraction. And it’s totally out of scale.
IMHO, the books would have played better if Albus had indeed been the charming and well-intentioned eccentric he appeared to be, and turned out to be acknowledged to have made a whole series of really bad decisions. What was necessary to the story arc was for the protagonist to discover that his mentor had limits, and that blindly following his advice would not solve the problem. It wasn’t necessary for Albus to turn out to be knowingly selfish/blind/feeble/manipulative/evil. All that was necessary was for him to be proved wrong in some relevant and fundamental issue. An unwise crush on dashing young Gellert Grindelwald was neither relevant nor fundamental.
Well, the rest of this is based on what I had managed to thrash out back when we were still expected to believe that Dumbledore was the epitome of goodness. Like just about everyone else I may have given him a bit too much credit. But I hadn’t completely missed the hints that were actually there.
It also introduces a couple of recent reinterpretations and rexamination of the information that we were handed over the course of the series, and some of the unsupported assumptions that we were encouraged to form.
At the end of HBP, my general reading of the matter was that if Dumbledore’s defeat of the Dark wizard Grindelwald had not been something already in his job description — and I couldn’t see any way in which it could have been — then it was almost certain to have been a fluke. A notable accomplishment, yes, no question about that, but not one which grew naturally out of his own interests and existing body of work. The same cannot be said for the other two signal achievements listed on his chocolate frog card.
Those achievements are the discovery (or publication) of 12 uses for dragons’ blood and his Alchemical research in partnership with the unquestionably great Nicholas Flamel. Neither of these sound like the sort of thing one distinguishes oneself in by accident.
Over the course of the series we were handed more than one clue which should cause any reader to suspect that Albus Dumbledore was, at the very least, one of the leading authorities on blood magic in Great Britain, if not all Europe, or, if you are inclined to hyperbola, the entire wizarding world. He produced a body of research work on dragon’s blood, still in use today. The “Ancient Magic” he invoked as a protection for Harry was dependent upon Harry being in the company of his mother’s “blood” kin. And that gleam in the eye when he learned that Voldemort had used blood taken by force from Harry to facilitate his return strongly suggests that he knew something about the use of an enemy’s blood that Voldemort had not considered — and it was something that was probably not to Voldemort’s advantage.
Nor, I gather, does Nicholas Flamel engage in collaborations with just anybody.
Ergo: we may tentatively conclude that Dumbledore’s personal interests may lie more in the field of Alchemy than in Transfiguration, despite the fact that he spent much of his prime teaching Transfiguration to the Hogwarts student body. We have never been given any indication that the Hogwarts curriculum includes classes in Alchemy.
So. Dumbledore is a Master of the study of Alchemy.
Alchemy, and... Potions? Where, apart from the study of Alchemy itself, does one most expect to be using dragons’ blood? (Even given that one of those uses is allegedly as an oven cleaner.) Not in pure Transfiguration, certainly. It really ought to be noted that even though he takes care to put Harry on his guard about Slughorn’s probable desire to “collect” him, Dumbledore introduces Horace Slughorn, a considerably skilled brewer of Potions to Harry, not merely as a colleague, but as a friend.
Another matter which evidently needs to be drawn to the attention of the reader and so far as I have seen has not been, is the fact that the largest part of the information we have regarding Headmaster Dumbledore’s background is the information printed on his chocolate frog card. And that information is in serious need of re-evaluation.
By all indications, the information on that card is considerably out of date.
What is more, the information on that card is egregiously misleading.
Consider; the three signal achievements noted on that card are; one professional association, one research-related high point, and the defeat of one Dark wizard back in 1945. Plus the puffery which notes that in some people’s opinion he is “the greatest wizard of modern times”.
So what were his public efforts, if any, during VoldWar I, chopped liver?
Particularly given that VoldWar I lasted for something like 15 years.
His supposed efforts that (according to fanon) a significant faction of the Wizengamot presumably wanted to appoint him Minister of Magic over don’t even rate a mention?
Post-HBP we realize that we have been assuming that it was Dumbledore’s efforts during VoldWar that had something to do with Dumbledore’s broad popularity and the desire of a grateful nation to make him Minister for Magic, on little or no actual textual support.
It now turns out that Dumbledore had already been offered, and had refused the Post of Minister for Magic three times before VoldWar I ever properly got started. Indeed he had been offered, and refused that post three times while he was still serving as the Hogwarts Transfiguration instructor. Before he was even appointed Headmaster.
There is absolutely no direct mention of his role — any role — during VoldWar I on that chocolate frog card. Which strongly suggests that the chocolate frog cards, once issued, are never updated by their publisher, and/or that Dumbledore’s chocolate frog card has been in circulation since before Voldemort’s first rise ever started making waves.
Or, possibly, that He-Who-We-Do-Not-Mention is not even mentioned in the accolades accorded to the people who worked to defeat him, either. For example: why isn’t there a card for Lily Potter?
That Dumbledore’s card identifies him as Hogwarts’s current Headmaster would give us the earliest probable date of issue as having been some time around 1957, the year that Minerva McGonagall came on staff as Transfigurations mistress, making a strong inference that Headmaster Dippett had either died or retired during, or by the end of, the Autumn term of 1956.
But, in fact, we do not know this to be the case, either. The fact that Albus was once and Minerva is now the Transfigurations instructor of the school does not establish that Minerva directly replaced Dumbledore in the position. Indeed, the only real calculation point we have to pin Albus’s ascension to Headmaster to is that it took place roughly some 10 years after Tom Riddle’s first disappearance from wizarding Britain. And we have no solid data to establish that date. All we know of it is that Tom was still visibly young when he absconded after murdering Madam Hepzibah Smith and stealing two of her treasures. Ergo; he was probably not above 25. But beyond that we cannot say.
This calls for a reality check.
The whole point of the Famous Wizard trading cards — from the point of view of the people who publish them — is to keep people buying them. In order to keep people buying them, you have to keep issuing new ones. Of pretty much anybody that you can justify basing a card upon.
In as small a community as wizarding Britain, the Headmaster of the only magical training school is automatically an official on a high enough level to justify the issuing of a card in his name. Regardless of how humdrum a life he may have led, he is still a “public figure.”
Hold that thought. It is part of the shell game that seems to be being played here.
To be the “defeater of the Dark wizard Grindelwald” twelve years or so earlier, in itself, apparently, was not sufficient reason to issue a card in Albus Dumbledore’s name, or the bloody card would have been issued back in 1945 or 1946. (Assuming that Famous Wizard trading cards existed back then. It is entirely possible that they are a more recent innovation.)
Or possibly, that there was one, and that version of the card is now highly collectable since it does not identify him as Headsmaster. The card Harry got had been updated after Dumbledore was so appointed. But we never hear anything related to that.
And, if you are a publisher of Famous Wizard Trading Cards, what is your target audience? Who are the capsule blurbs on those cards written for? Who are they designed to impress? Who do the blurbs need to connect with?
Or, adolescents anyway.
And — a reality check here — just who is this particular card about? What is his day job?
He’s the Headmaster of their school.
Oh that’s going to impress a lot of 12-year-olds
And just how much is his also being the junior partner to Nicholas Flamel or having discovered 12 uses for dragon’s blood going to impress them? Will that make their little hearts go pit-a-pat? Hardly.
But defeating a Dark wizard? Oh yeah, the kiddies can really get behind that one!
Never mind that this “defeat of the Dark wizard Grindelwald” might have been something more akin to a barroom brawl (in the Hog’s Head, yet, for all we knew at that point!) than any sort of an official battle. Dumbledore was a teacher in a school in 1945, for heaven’s sake, not off blipping around the continent in the middle of a Muggle war like some kind of wizarding Hiram Holiday. And by the time the school broke up for the summer in 1945, the Muggle war on the continent (or at least our Muggle war on the continent) was over.
Despite Rowling’s comments in the joint interview of 2005; that Grindelwald was indeed connected to a wartime situation in the mid 1940s (despite the utter refusal of such a statement to make any kind of plausible sense), in the absence of further information, what seemed just as likely was that the whole Grindelwald distraction was intended to be a “meta” trick. The “defeat of the Dark wizard Grindelwald” was designed to associate and conflate Albus Wulfric Percival Brian Dumbledore with the hero Beowulf. He who settled the Grendels, after which adventure he was given the rule of the land, and ruled it well, and was much beloved.
Er… well, not, actually.
We finally got a bit of hope in that July 2005 interview that we might eventually learn at least something more regarding Grindelwald than we had up to that date.
It was far and beyond time that we ought to, if it mattered to any significant degree. Which by that time I suspected that it probably didn’t, really. But it would be nice to get it sorted and out of the way.
(ETA: it turned out to have absolutely nothing to do with the problem presented by Tom Riddle. But it made a masterful distraction to facilitate stringing out the plot’s general inaction over the course of the endless camping trip from Hell.)
By that time, I was inclined to believe that much of Dumbledore’s continued pleasure in that card may well have been precisely because so it tickled him to see himself painted as the sort of dashing “action hero” that he so manifestly was not. In fact, I still think so.
As to the people who considered him possibly the greatest wizard of modern times; I also rather thought that evaluation was more likely to be a perception of greatness in the manner of a Winston Churchill, or at the very least, as an Albert Einstein or a Stephen Hawking. This is not a distinction that is necessarily a quality accessible to the perceptions of 12-year-old boys. For that matter, the fact that he had already been offered the post Minister of Magic three times before he was even appointed Headmaster, tends to suggest to me that his backers had always been people like Griselda Marchbanks who had encountered him around 1899, and had been singing his praises ever since. His run-in with Grindelwald had precious little to do with it.
Regardless, it seems transparently evident that the puffery on that card, namely the assertion that Dumbledore “is believed by many people to be the greatest wizard in modern times”, is certainly not based upon his role in VoldWar I. Indeed, in light of the revelations of DHs we can no longer be sure he even played a public role in VoldWar I.
Which is just as well. Because Albus Dumbledore turns out to have been a piss-poor war leader.
We can readily accept that during VoldWar I Albus Dumbledore, as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot (which he probably was by that time) might have been an inspirational figure, but in that go-round it was the Ministry that was calling the shots. Dumbledore was not running the show himself.
Or was he? Hold that thought, too.
If you look back over his track record, I mean really look, you can easily see a whole string of misunderstandings and poor decisions. The man is a scholar not a General.
Which raises the question of the Order of the Phoenix. I can concieve of absolutely no reason why someone as unwilling to take personal responsibility for anyone else’s safety or well-being as Albus Dumbledore would have chosen to create a volunteer vigilante group such as the Order of the Phoenix.
The Ministry had already effectively declared that “Lord Voldemort” was an enemy of the State, and were already attenpting aprehend him, and it was actively combatting him in an official capacity. Why the hell would Albus Dumbledore want to shove his oar in by creating an unofficial resistance group? The only purpose of the Order of the Phoenix serves, so far as I can make it out, is to strike a pose in opposition to Voldemort’s Death Eaters in some kind of of irrational symetry.
It certainly appeares to serve no purpose that the Ministry was not already performing.
I could just about see it as being Albus’s attempt to limit the damage after he had been so foolish as to allow a portion of the Trelawney Prophecy to escape. By basically by forming a support group for all of the people who had escaped Voldemort’s attentions those requsite three times. But Rowling appears to be determined to claim that the Order predated the Prophecy, which disqualifies that explanation. Althougn I do include an iteration based on it farther down the page.
One much less benign theory is to presume that; post-Grindelwald in 1945, with Albus it always comes down to the Hallows. He had in some manner already discovered that James Potter was a Peveril descendant, and had come up with the brilliant idea of founding a gaudy, attractive “resistance group” requiring no specific NEWTs, or any three years of Auror training to join, in order to point James and his friends at, in order to be able to keep track of the boy (and his family heirlooms) after James had finished at Hogwarts.
It was only in 2021, in the course of an email eschange with one of my correspondents, that it finally dawned on me that Albus might have founded the Order. But it was Alastor Moody who actually ran it.
My correspondent pointed out that the Order appeared to have survived Albus’s death, but once Moody was killed, it seems to have all but completely unraveled, and went pretty much dormant, although some of its members later created Potterwatch.
At which point it was suddenly very easy for me to believe that Albus, after listening to Moody grousing one time too many about obstructionism inside the Ministry, offered to sponsor an independent group, not beholden to the Ministry, and let Moody put his actions where his mouth was. Albus would be the titualr Head, would call meetings when he had something to bring to their attention, would recruit a few people who he thought might be helpful, but otherwise it was Alastor’s baby and he could change the diapers.
No, Albus Dumbledore is definitely not a General.
In fact, for an example: Let’s go back to that whole moldy fig of a Prophecy. There, at the height of Voldemort’s first rise to power, Albus Dumbledore is the inadvertent recipient of what appears to be a bona fide Prophecy which very much implies that the person with the power to destroy the Dark Lord is a child yet unborn.
Okay. Think about that for a moment. A child yet unborn. What is the WW supposed to do then, hunker down and try to stick it out until that child grows up?
Well, yes, apparently, according to Albus Dumbledore. That’s exactly what they are supposed to do. This is a war leader?
Never mind that the established policy of the Ministry is to suppress Prophecies.
Even dismissing the gaudy invitation to ill-considered actions that a Prophesy represents, you can do better than that.
Like reflect that even though the Prophecy claims that the foretold child is the “one with the power” it never claims he is the ONLY one with the power. (Particularly not if “the power” is just the ability to form *basic human attachments*, which is the drum that Albus was pounding all through the series.)
Come on here! There have got to be more ways to limit the damage potential of a terrorist group than to concentrate all your efforts on assassinating their leader!
For what it’s worth, we were also handed a clue in OotP that it is all too likely that Voldemort fears Dumbledore, not for his power as a wizard —considerable as that may be — but for what Dumbledore knows about the background of one Tom Riddle.
So why wasn’t that knowledge been made public so it can do damage to Riddle rather than just giving Riddle another good reason to try to neutralize Dumbledore and keep the information from escaping?
Most of Voldemort’s followers apparently do not know — or at any rate do not admit — that their leader is a literal halfblood. His potential recruits (considering the demographic that he’s deliberately targeting for recruitment) certainly do not know this. And it would matter to them! Why the hell didn’t Dumbledore go public with this information a decade ago? Just whose agenda was being advanced by all this secrecy?
Why the hell was Albus so determined to keep all of Tom’s secrets for him?
I wondered in the period between OotP and HBP if this was finally going to be made an issue in Book 6.
Every DE still alive and walking free — apart from Snape, Karkaroff, and Crouch Jr, witnessed the effect of Tom and Harry attempting to use brother wands against one another. Now that Harry’s version of the event has been made public and has made the leap from the Quibbler to the Prophet, why wasn’t there a follow-up article featuring an interview with an expert witness (and conspicuously neutral source) such as Mr Ollivander describing and explaining the phenomenon that Harry has reported and — given that Ollivander remembers every wand he has ever sold, describing those two wands and what is known of their known original owners? Thereby revealing just whose wand the Dark Lord must have been using? And then follow up that article with one examining just who and what this Tom Riddle, ex-Head Boy of Hogwarts came from, and just under what circumstances Tom Riddle supposedly disappeared from the wizarding world some 40 years or so earlier?
Is that why Mr Ollivander has so conveniently disappeared?
Well, that particular possibility for getting the news out was foreclosed upon by the opening of HBP, when Mr Ollivander, and his stock had been taken out of the equation. We thought his disappearance might be voluntary at the time, but we couldn’t be sure. Maybe the Quibbler ought to have followed the matter up a bit earlier. There were 3–4 months between the Quibbler running the original interview that Harry gave Rita and Ollivander’s disappearance.
Voldemort’s current followers are stuck. They signed a contract with this particular devil and cannot get out of it. But there are only a few dozen of them, and a strong indication that their Dark Lord is a Muggle-raised halfblood could have certainly slowed down his recruiting drive!
But, if the conditions required to produce that particular variety of sociopath in the Potterverse are such as described in the companion piece ‘The Premature Prediction’, then we may conceivably have another issue interfering with getting that particular message out. If the requirements for producing that kind of a sociopath are as described, then although the wizarding world is able to turn out, or generate any number of maladjusted wizards, such a true wizarding sociopath would be very uncommon — inside the wizarding world. Any such sociopathic wizard would almost have to have been raised outside the wizarding world. By Muggles.
And since we were originally led to believe that Voldemort is apparently not the first Dark Lord candidate that the wizarding world has had to deal with. (There were allusions in the first couple of books to another about a century earlier.) If any of the previous Dark Lord candidates were also known to be a Muggle-raised outsiders, the implications of the news that “Lord Voldemort” is yet another Muggle-raised outsider might just be a can of worms that Dumbledore was reluctant to open.
What I suspect, however, is that Dumbledore was seriously out of his depth.
Nor, by the end of HBP, was I the only one to think so. And I am not talking about those fans who were now convinced that Dumbledore is eeeeeeevil.
I think the old man was simply getting past it.
And that he made another one of his “huge mistakes”.
We had yet another go-round on the semi-perennial Evil!Dumbledore debate over on WIKtT (this was now several years ago). I’d noticed that this particular debate had shifted its emphasis from the original, rather crude “gleam=evil” reading based on Harry’s maybe-observation in Goblet to a sleeker, updated “Manipulative Bastard” model who uses children to do his dirty work.
It’s a more sophisticated reading certainly, and allows for a great many more additional supportive examples, such as an open forum for the long-standing irritation at Dumbledore’s tactlessly public humiliation of the entire Slytherin House by awarding points to Harry and friends at the last minute — actually at the leaving feast — at the end of PS/SS, rather than awarding them quietly the day after HRH had stormed the Labyrinth, and handing the Gryffs the House Cup through conventional channels.
Of course, if he had done that, Gryffindor probably wouldn’t have taken the Cup after all. Either a Slytherin would have managed to earn his House some extra points or someone, probably Snape, would have managed to deduct one from Gryffindor, putting them behind again.
By this time, it is rather too easy to make a very convincing argument for Evil!Dumbledore. But I didn’t, at that point, fully support Manipulative Bastard!Dumbledore any more than I did the cruder, Evil!Dumbledore iteration which had been circulating earlier. But I definitely did not still see Dumbledore as having been either all-wise or all-powerful.
Or all-truthful, either. We were all being misled by the Harry filter again.
Which is something that we are going to have to go on dealing with. Up to some point in Book 5, according to the Harry filter, Dumbledore could do no wrong — just as Snape could do nothing right. Once Harry hit the very worst stage of adolescence in Book 5, I suspected that at least for the first half of Book 6, Dumbledore would probably not manage to do anything right either.
It turns out that in this I was mistaken. Apparently we’re now all supposed to believe that the problem throughout Book 5 is that I probably was correct in my suspicion that most of our episodes of CAPSLOCKS!Harry was the result of having Voldemort waltzing in and out of his head, at will. (Which says something very unflattering regarding Voldemort’s emotional maturity, too.) Now that Voldemort has walled off the psychic “leakage” from his end Harry seems to be back to being a reasonable extrapolation of his GoF self, and Dumbledore is once again his hero.
As for the main arguments that the Evil!Dumbledore proponents generally field regarding the chinks in Dumbledore’s shining armor; well, yes. I rather suspected that those flaws are really there. And that they were probably even there with JKR’s full knowledge and intent. She hadn’t pulled many punches with the rest of the cast’s human flaws and character weaknesses, had she? Why should we expect Dumbledore to remain exempt?
But up to the end of OotP we hadn’t ever officially looked at this head-on, because up to that point, Dumbledore was Harry’s “hero”. Moreover, until HBP, Dumbledore had been a rather distant figure. If Harry had been sitting in a classroom in front of him two days a week over the previous five years we might have gotten a slightly different view of him by then. And, now that Harry was actually allegedly learning something from Dumbledore, we were bound to get a different perspective.
And in HBP, Dumbledore, frankly, came across as a self-congratulatory show-off with a strong trace of the narcissist about him. And a fine turn at faux modesty. Nevertheless, he arguably still counted as a “Great Man” even if a great deal too complacent about his greatness. Basically he was still possible to read as a man of reasonably good character who is overlooking important details, failing to keep all of his stories straight, and all the balls in the air at the same time. The house at No. 12 Grimmauld Place isn’t the only secret Dumbledore was keeping. And he didn’t trust most of them to Harry.
But, before we get any farther away from the issue; back to his track record:
Three schoolboys (and possibly a girl) hoodwinked the Headmaster about their Animagi status and he didn’t find out about it until one of them ’fessed up nearly 20 years later. (He may not have ever known about Rita at all, unless Hermione, or someone else, finally got around to telling him about her.)
He really believed, or chose to believe, that Sirius Black was the Potter’s secret keeper who had betrayed them, despite the long-term, virtually “foster-brother” relationship between Sirius and James. Despite the fact that he knows that Voldemort is a master Legilimens who could possibly have extracted that information by force, or stealth. And, apparently, once Sirius had been arrested for murdering Peter Pettigrew and a dozen Muggles, he *didn’t even try* to question Sirius afterward to find out WHY he had so suddenly betrayed his friends.
Did he simply decide that Sirius was “one of the Blacks” and had reverted to type? Did Snape have some influence there that we have not yet heard about? Did Peter Pettigrew hedge his bets by firing off a lying Patronus message that “All is lost! Black has betrayed us!” before staging his own “murder” and slipping off the board? Did Albus regard Sirius’s status as Harry’s godfather an unwanted complication and attempt to limit Black’s opportunities for interference? Or, more to the point, did Albus simply dislike Sirius Black enough not to care whether or not he was actually guilty? It’s possible. Black certainly had given him cause.
What is more, even after he learned differently at the end of PoA, in the following month or two, when Albus must have been working in close consultation with Barty Crouch Sr over reviving the TriWizard Tournament, he never once thought to comment; “By the way, in the brief period that I had Black in custody, I discovered a disturbing possibility that Sirius Black may not have been the Potter’s Secret Keeper as I had originally been informed. What steps were taken to verify that it was Black’s wand which caused the explosion that killed all of those people?” ?
I mean, it’s all very well to claim that no one would believe a couple of 13-year-olds and a werewolf, but really, as the Chief Warlock of the blooming Wizengamot, that is a reasonable question for him to have raised. Dumbledore is also a Legilimens after all, and Black had been in his custody. He could reasonably have implied that he had discovered the Black/Pettigrew switch himself. In fact, given the rapidity with which he turned up in the hospital wing after questioning Black the indications are that he did discover it himself. Why not at least bring the subject up if he believes Black now? (And in strict accuracy, Hermione was 14 by that time. Closing on 15.)
I have recently begun to suspect that Albus probably had at least broached the subject, not with Crouch, but with Fudge, who Albus was still in the habit of regarding as an ally at that point. The rapidity of the Ministry’s turn-about from blanketing Black’s suspected whereabouts in Dementors to putting the hunt for him in the hands of a single Auror, to be conducted in the course of his other work, as well as the rapidity with which Sirius was exonerated after he was safely dead, looks just a bit suspicious. I certainly don’t recall anyone catching sight of Pettigrew in the raid on the DoM to have raised the obvious questions in the right offices.
But Fudge, who I suspect had already been gotten to by Lucius Malfoy, and who was steadily having his confidence in Albus chipped away by Dolores Umbridge, refused to comply fully. He willingly withdrew the Dementors — particularly in view of the public relations nightmare that had been narrowly averted when they gratuitously attacked Harry Potter, but he flatly refused to call off the hunt for Black on Albus’s say-so. And Albus did not press the issue. Or, evidently raise the matter with Crouch.
So. Albus has done nothing to undermine Voldemort’s position vis-à-vis any of his potential followers (and why not? Voldemort would do it to him — and has!).
He publicly humiliates a quarter of his own School at a leaving feast.
And that’s only the beginning. Looked at critically his actions and apparent beliefs turns up a long-standing string of blind spots, misunderstandings and examples of just plain bad judgement.
Yet he clearly appears to mean well. But he is simply not, or is no longer, up to the magnitude of the job at hand. No single human being could be. But he doesn’t share information and he doesn’t seem to know how to delegate authority. He may be a splendidly inspirational figure, but he is not a war leader. (McGonagall probably beats him regularly at Wizard’s Chess.)
But he is another kind of leader. And that is something the information on Hogwarts’ stationary’s letterhead told us all the way back before we even managed to escape from Privet Drive (or ever saw that chocolate frog card), and it blew right past us.
Albus Dumbledore turns out to have been one of the very biggest (non-chocolate!) frogs in the very small puddle which is the British wizarding world. And from what we saw in GoF and continued to see in OotP it is clear that the British wizarding world is hopelessly corrupt. And it has continued to be so. On. His. Watch.
Dumbledore is not a visionary outsider attempting to redress wrongs. He is the quintessential insider with his own clique of devoted followers, and he’s had decades to work with them, from the inside of the system. And this is the result. One seriously has to wonder what kind of a state the place would have gotten itself into if Dumbledore hadn’t been around, and whether or not it could have been even worse.
Dumbledore’s position is another one of the areas where Rowling appears to have totally messed up the balance. She loaded him up with far too many honors without highlighting his corresponding accountability for the state of Things As They Are.
ETA: well, in that observation I was right. But it is now clear that Rowling had, in fact, messed up the balance quite deliberately. It also appears that Albus seems to have felt that symbolically refusing the post of Minister for Magic let him permanently off the hook over any suggestions of misuse of power or position, for he certainly had no hesitation about collecting every other honor and high office that was on offer, and sitting on the power therein.
Rowling has also tilted the balance into complete improbability when she has Dumbledore stating in HBP that Tom Riddle is possibly the “most dangerous Dark wizard of all time”. Unless Albus was indulging in deliberate hyperbole, if Riddle is the worst problem the wizarding world has ever faced then they have got off lightly. There is far less to Tom Riddle than anyone is willing to admit. It’s just so much easier to blame him for everything that’s wrong, and to pretend that that lets everyone else off the hook.
The letterhead of Harry’s Hogwarts letter states that Albus Dumbledore is not only the current Headmaster of Hogwarts, but also the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederacy of Wizards, AND the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot.
Excuse me, but the Wizengamot appears to be the Ultimate Wizarding Governing Body of all Great Britain and Ireland!
The Minister for Magic, by contrast, is merely an appointive office. He isn’t even elected. He’s appointed, and it’s the Wizengamot who appoints him. He can’t legislate anything without first getting the Wizengamot’s approval. And Dumbledore headed the Wizengamot. I would not be astonished to learn that the International Confederacy of Wizards is the same thing on an international level. And Dumbledore also seems to have headed that. AND he oversees the training of every wizarding child in his own national constituency as the Headmaster of the only magical training institution in that particular wizarding nation!
The post of Minister for Magic might be a more public office. But insofar as power goes, if anything, it would have been a step down. And would required a great deal more of his time and attention, too.
As I state above: according to what little internal canonical evidence we have available, Dumbledore had become Headmaster by some point between 1957–1963. We do not know how long it took him to pull off his hat trick and accrue the other two honors as well. I am assuming that it is unlikely that the Chief Warlock or Supreme Mugwump would have been holding down a day job as mere Staff in a boarding school, but I could be wrong. He was certainly already on the Wizengamot when he was no more than Deputy Head. And possibly even before he started teaching, decades earlier.
We don’t, after all, know who the Dumbledores were. They could have had an hereditary seat. (It’s probably more likely to be fanon than canon, but there is a strong, pervading impression that many of the 50 seats of the Wizengamot are held by the Heads of various families.)
On consideration, with that kind of a resumé It is small wonder that the publishers issued him a chocolate frog card. He virtually owned wizarding Britain. It is small wonder that there were people who regard him as “the greatest wizard in modern times”. And it is small wonder that in 1990 there was still at least one faction that seemed to think that the office of Minister for Magic would be an appropriate next step for him to take.
There is not a chance in Hades that he would have taken it. Even if he hadn’t been essentially gun-shy regarding that specific honor. After all, Dumbledore knew that Harry Potter would be arriving at Hogwarts with the new students of ’91. And it is clear that Dumbledore had every intention of overseeing as much of Harry Potter’s training and development as humanly possible. Or his lack of training.
But, really, what are the odds of anyone managing to juggle that particular combination of offices, for decades, without dropping the ball? And yet he seems to have held onto all of these honors right up to the opening of OotP rather than groom appropriate successors for any of them. The wizarding world is a small puddle, true, but is this kind of doubling up of authority really in its best interests?
Nor, despite his posturing, am I fully convinced that the Headmaster was omniscient in the least. Or even that he was authentically “wise”. He was allegedly a clever man, and he had access to several excellent information networks. And he knew how to use them. But they could not tell him everything, and much of his “wisdom” could just as easily be the side effect of a very long life, a good memory, and the ability to at least pretend to learn from experience (his own and other peoples’). This is certainly wisdom of a sort, but it is a sort that any intelligent person can put together if he pays attention and has over 100 years in which to do so. It is not some astonishing ghod-touched inborn quality.
Dumbledore is agred to have been intelligent, at least. He was undoubtedly brilliant in his own field. There is enough evidence to support that conclusion. But he was not brilliant overall. And he made a great many more mistakes than the ones he admitted to.
Mind you, I did still tend to mock a lot of the “Evil!Dumbledore” scenarios that litter the online community (although some of them really do manage to make a very convincing arguement). However, Rowling did steadily continue claim in interviews — before she got so cagey about turning loose information — that Dumbledore was “all that was good”. So I really didn’t think we were likely to get any real (or lasting) surprises on that head. Although I suspected that we had some kind of a monumental one waiting in the wings for the grand conclusion of Book 7. (I could wish that the one we got had been more relevant.)
The Manipulative!Dumbledore readings were a much fairer cop, but even those generally implied a far greater degree of conscious intent to do harm than I thought the situation really warranted.
Imho, Albus Dumbledore was an old man with a BAD case of hubris.
This is a man of long experience who has chosen to surround himself with schoolchildren, and other people half his age, or less, and he has done so for generations. He’d fallen into the habit of being convinced that he always knows better than anyone else does, and that he was the proper person to tell everyone what they ought to be doing, because he was so much smarter than them. Nobody among his own followers (with the possible exception of his own brother) had challenged him in decades. Of course he fell into the trap of believing that he is the font of all wisdom. Of course he kept all the reins in his own hands.
And when you come right down to it, what I suspect is that the operative term for Albus Dumbledore was, was not “evil” or even “manipulative”, but all too often, and with progressively greater frequency, simply, “wrong”.
A post on the Lj of the user “sister magpie” has another take on this. It is a fine examination of the kind of emotional failures a well-intentioned but isolated old man can make.
In my own reading, Albus Dumbledore may have once been an authentically “Great Man” who finally overreached himself, and had only in his last year begun to truly realize just how badly. And he was honest enough to be aware that the whole sorry situation was directly attributable to his actions, or inactions, where Riddle was concerned.
I suspect that Albus Dumbeldore honestly believed that Tom Riddle constituted one of the worst of his “huge mistakes”. He’s not wrong, either. He seriously dropped the ball there.
My take on the matter is that Dumbledore’s greatest flaw has nothing to do with trying to see the best in people. It is that he invariably refuses to take action until it is virtually always too late. He sits back, he observes, hw analyses the events and is all-too-sure of his understanding of what is going on (often wrongly), but he does bugger-all about dealing with it.
And shirks any kind of responsibility for doing so.
Are we really sure that Albus Dumbledore was a Gryffindor? These are all Ravenclaw failures.
The very last thing Albus is prone to is Gryffindor-style, rash, unconsidered action. (Except when the author forces it on him, offstage, to move the plot forward.) Left to himself, he is every bit as much of an “armchair expert” as his friend Slughorn.
And he has been letting things fall through the cracks for decades. Important things. In fact, matters of life and death. And time was running out for him to put things right. It is just not possible to read his actions, from his first appearance in HBP on the Dursleys’ doorstep in chapter 3, as anything other than part of an extended process of “putting his affairs in order”.
By that time Albus Dumbledore knew that he was dying.
He also makes snap judgements about people. I rather think that by the time he left Tom with his Hogwarts letter and his stipend from the Governors’ fund for indegent students, he had already made up his mind as to exactly what kind of a child Tom Riddle was going to be, and had already started compiling a mental list of things to support that reading of his character.
Not that he ever took any action on the strength of it. Not even to give anyone else on the staff a possible heads-up to watch for potential trouble from that direction.
I am also very much inclined to suspect that, from that point, Albus resented the very fact of Tom Riddle’s existence. All the more because the kid had somehow managed to get under his skin to the point that he lost his temper and set fire to the furniture.
I really don’t think that it suits Albus Dumbledore’s preferred image of himself to reflect that he’s the kind of person who can be goaded into a pissing contest with an 11-year-old. Even if he did win.
From the readers’ PoV, his tendency to do nothing was further compounded in the earliest books by his appearing to be determined to always catch wrong-doers In The Act in front of witnesses. I don’t think we’d ever seen him take action unless he had someone in tow to back up his version of events. I think the only action we have ever seen him take on the grounds of “suspicion” only, was to stake-out the room where the Mirror of Erised had been set up in order to intercept Harry, figure out what he was made of, and give him the information he would need in order to be able to retrieve the Stone from the Mirror after the shouting was over. And since I’m sure he stage managed that whole little exercise for exactly that purpose it hardly counts.
Like far too many other people he expects the small problems to solve themselves, and when he miscalculates he has to scramble to play catch-up. Tom Riddle was one of his worst miscalculations.
In his defense; Dumbledore had undoubtedly seen any number of young bullies over his career as a schoolmaster. He may not approve of bullies, but he takes them in his stride, probably considers them a fact of life, and he knows that many, if not most of them will eventually outgrow it (James? Sirius?). Or if they don’t precisely outgrow it, they manage to carve lives out for themselves where bullying is not the central motivation (Fred & George Weasley?). And he also is aware that it’s all a matter of chance and a matter of degree. Severus Snape came up to school with an impressive collection of fully-functional homemade hexes and no social skills, and ended up being picked on. He could just have as easily turned out to be the biggest bully on the playground.
Yes, Albus claims to have seen all the warning signs with Tom. But the fact remains that the version of the official Riddle backstory he shows Harry was a far-from-objective version that he pieced together with 20/20 hindsight long after most of the events it displayed. In Real Time, it appears to have been only after clear evidence of what Tom had been up to was forced on him that Albus realized that Tom was a problem that absolutely was not going to solve itself.
He spent considerable time scrambling to catch up.
At which he failed.
If he had even moved that quickly.
But, once forced, he probably was on the job before the trail got too much colder. But it was already too late.
We’ve got a choice of events which might have brought Tom’s doings to Albus’s attention. These days, my own prefered reading is that what kicked off the whole business was that he interviewed Morfin Gaunt in Azkaban at some point in the late ’40s in the course of trying to do follow up on some of Gellert’s attempts to trace the Stone and the Cloak. This resulted in uncovering that supressed memory of Morfin’s visit with his long-lost nephew which had taken place in the summer of ’42.
I did have earlier theories of what got the ball rolling, but most of them have been abandoned in light of my current ones. I’ve recently been given convincing reason to re-evaluate rather a lot of my earlier extrapolations regarding Albus Dumbledore and the official Riddle backstory. And a lot of the reasoning I had been following no longer still makes sense once a couple of additional bits of data that I’ve been overlooking get added in.
This examination spun off from the above-referenced correspondence which resulted in the suspicion that the Order of the Phoenix was pulled together to give Alastor Moody something useful to do with himself instead of butting heads with everyone in the Ministry.
I’ve also realized that since HBP, we’ve all been encouraged to form a number of assumptions which I now feel may be unwarranted.
Albus’s version of the Official Riddle Backstory was presented to Harry Potter over the course of his 6th year at Hogwarts. The first thing that needs to be asked is; what was Albus’s purpose in that?
The obvious answer might be to familiarize Harry with his enemy and his enemy’s aims. But, as it was presented, it doesn’t really support that particular goal, does it? We get absolutely no clue as to why Tom Riddle decided he needed to be immortal, or why he needed to rule the Wizarding World, other than that it was there. Nor do we get any kind of hint as to what his aims actually are. And it probably wouldn’t have mattered if that presentation had given us some hints, for, by the time his followers had overthrown the Ministry, he showed no interest in ruling anybody other than them — and with an iron hand, at that.
Tom clearly thought he had better things to do than hang around and rule Wizarding Britain. Like run about Europe hunting for fabulous legendary unbeatable wands.
None of which had remotely anything to do with Albus’s presentation of the life and times of Tom Riddle. And, now that we’ve come this far, let’s also ask; where and how did Albus get the components of that presentation? And what do those components tell us, behind the scenes, regarding Albus?
Like, for example; why did he even have those components? Where did he get them? Apart from the tampered-with memory from Horace Slughorn, all of those memories dated from the mid-1920s to… the mid-’60s at the latest. Albus certainly hadn’t gone out and collected them with the intention of someday showing them to Harry Potter. So what had he intended them for. What had he originally been trying to DO with them?
I’m pretty sure that when he started out, he was trying to build a case to present to Wizengamot. And he wasn’t doing it any time recently.
If he was agitating for Morfin Gaunt’s release at some point after 1945 because he realized that Morfin had probably not been the person who murdered the Riddles, then I suspect that he was trying to be damned sure that he had an alternative “second murderer” to present to them. With a case that would hold up in court.
He probably wasn’t Chief Warlock at that point, but the Wizengamot would certainly have given a hearing to the “Defeater of Grindelwald”. After all, someone had murdered those three Muggles with AKs. We’re talking about a murder investigation. Convincing the Wizengamot that they’d imprisoned the wrong man will go much more smoothly if you can present convincing evidence that someone else is the right man.
I think that Albus’s goal was to pack Tom Riddle off to Azkaban, for proovable crimes, and throw away the key, where he would not be a danger to anyone else.
And all I can say is that Albus was no Perry Mason, either.
The murder of Hepzibah Smith right on top of this turned his potential case into being against not merely a parricide, but possibly against a dangerous serial killer.
Yes, I think there were enough hints and suggestions inherent in that presentation, not to mention in his “leading of the witnesses” (i.e., us) to put together a trail of suspicion that sort of hangs together, but it is lacking in anything that costitutes the kind of proof that would stand up in court.
And by the time he had collected his data Tom had boogied off to Albania and was out of his reach.
Unfortunately, Tom got out of Dodge right about then and wasn’t seen in Britain for a decade. I think Albus knew very well that he wasn’t likely to be able to convince the British Wizengamot to send anyone off to try to chase Tom Riddle across Europe. And when he did come back he’d adopted a different name and persona, and didn’t even look that much like the same person.
If Albus was ever going to present a case against Tom Riddle to the Wizengamot, the time he ought to have presented it was either to make a valient attempt to get him tried in absentia, while he was out of the country, and to get him established as a "person of interest" to the DMLE, if he ever returned to Britain, or to do it when Tom returned.
And if he had done it then, he should have added provable evidence that this so-called “Lord Voldemort” was actually Tom Marvolo Riddle, and that Tom Marvolo Riddle an imposter, a con man, and a murder suspect, who had changed his name and identity in order to evade persecution for his suspected crimes. And Rowling has never offered up any decent excuse for why Albus didn’t at least publicly make it known to the wizarding public that their “Lord Voldemort” was nothing of the sort.
I mean, really, I cannot for the life of me think of any convincing reason for why an Albus who supposedly knows the truth of the Riddle Massacre, as well as the murder of Hepzibah Smith, should have sat on his hands and watch Tom Riddle puff himself up into an avowed enemy of the State. There is no statute of limitations on the crime of murder.
Or maybe Albus just recognized that his case just wasn’t good enough, and he didn’t dare to risk it.
But in any case, this was the point that the entire conflict between Albus Dumbledore and Tom Riddle went unmistakably, irrevocably, and irredemably pear-shaped. From that point on, it was Tom Riddle calling the shots.
I’m now wondering whether Rowling didn’t patch together her official Riddle backstory on the spur of the moment as she was patching HBP together without bothering to link it into the main narrative at all. Ghod knows nothing we were supposedly told about him in that book lined up with anything we’d been given to understand about Tom Riddle through the first five books. Or in the seventh, either.
Okay, taking it from the top; let’s go back to 1945, and Albus, who now has access to Gellert’s notes from his own search for the other two Hallows. None of the leads that Gellert had followed up on panned out, but there were probably a number that his agents had not considered worth making the effort on. We don’t know how many. But one of them was of an alleged “Peverill ring” owned by a fellow named Marvolo Gaunt.
Nothing about Marvelo Gaunt was credible enough to lead Gellert’s agent to attempt to press the issue when the original offer to buy his ring was refused. But it was left in the notes as a dangling thread, and Albus felt it worth at least checking out.
Now, something which might be relevant to further hypothesis, is just how much credibility one is willing to place in that codswallop from Pottermore about the “Sacred 28” pureblood lineages. This is definitely not book canon, but I’ve tripped over it far too often in fanfic for it to be likely to have been the invention of one isolated fanfic author. It's not mandatory, but accepting it could prove useful. I personally think it’s coswallop, but I’ll leave the final decision up to you.
However, if there is any grounds to it at all, then the Gaunts would probably have been listed among that 28. Gellert kept his ambitions away from Britain, so we don’t know how much he knows about British pureblood lineages. Albus, who, as I say, may have already been a member of the Wizengamot, might be a fair degree more conversant with that information. If so, Albus might have felt it a good idea to check out the Gaunt’s ring out on those grounds alone, even if the family had fallen into obscurity.
Well, by then the only surviving Gaunt was Morfin, who was in Azkaban. So Albus would have needed to get some background on whatever information was relevant to Morfin Gaunt. Which, I suspect is what led him to the Ogden memory.
That memory would have probably made him very interested indeed. That Marvolo claimed to own a ring that had belonged to the Peverills, was one thing, such an artifact could just be any random piece of Hallows Quester’s rubbish from the past five centuries. However, the fellow was also claiming to be descended from Salazar Slytherin, and he and his whole family were all Parselmouths, which made that claim look a good deal more likely than not. Given that Salazar Slytherin pre-dated the Peverills by at least a couple of centruies, if Marvolo was being truthful about that, he might very well be being truthful about the other, as well.
A further point of interest was the name of the Muggle that Morfin was being arrested for magically attacking, in violation of the Statute of Secrecy. And the kicker may well have been the glimpse that Albus got of that older Tom Riddle and his girlfriend Cecelia. The Tom Riddle that Albus had just thought he’d seen the last of at Hogwarts is said to have closely resembled his father.
By this time Albus is well aware that Morfin is in Azkaban for having murdered that very same Muggle, Tom Riddle, along with the man’s parents. And he very likely remembers that a around that time, a Hogwarts student of the same name, and much the same appearance, who Albus also knows had once claimed to be a Parselmouth, was flashing around a ring with the symbol of the Hallows on it.
Now, none of this is conclusive evidence that the ring in question ever actually had anything to do with the Peverills. But it’s ticking off enough boxes to make it more than worth investigating further.
So, okay, he needs to speak with Morfin, and find out how the ring got into the hands of Tom Riddle. It would be far too much of a stretch at this point to assume that we are dealing with two different rings.
Well, we presumably were shown the result of that interview, and the next thing we know, Albus is attempting to get Morfin out of Azkaban.
Okay, now you raise the question of; why? Well that is fairly easy once you give it a bit of thought. Albus may be perfectly willing to treat rules as something that apply to other people. Particularly in his later years. But he does prefer to have his own actions at least look legal and above-board. Besides, if Morfin didn’t kill the Riddles, then he ought not to be in Azkaban for it.
If Tom stole the ring from Morin, then the stolen property ought to be recovered and returned to its rightful owner.
Who would then be just terribly obliged to Albus. Much as Hagrid is. And for much the same kind of reasons.
And for that matter, after robbing the man, and setting him up for a life in Azkaban, Morfin has no convincing obligation to leave what little estate he possesses to Tom Riddle. He also is probably well aware that he hasn’t long to live. He may very well agree to Albus’s offer to be the executor of that estate, and may even decide to leave the ring to Albus directly.
If Morfin’s health had held out a bit longer it might very well have happened that way. Although, by that time, the ring had already become the Ring, and by the time Tom had skipped the country, it was probably already burried in the Gaunt ruin and cursed to hell and back.
We’ve also tumbled into the trap of assuming that all of that presentation apart from the Ogden memory had been painstakingly collected by Albus, himself. I now think that this assumptions is incorrect. We've evidently been keeping company with the long-lost Weasley cousin (who was actually a Prewett) that was discarded from the story when it became evident that as a First year raised outside the Wizarding World, she would have had no access to the information that she had been intended to deliver to the trio.
So who did collect and provide Albus’s body of evidence?
I rather think we might have just stumbled over the source of that long friendship between Albus Dumbledore and Alistor Moody.
When we first encountered the official Riddle backstory, we just assumed that probably everything but the Ogden memory — which Albus tells us right up front was from someone else — were from Albus’s own investigations. However. Like I say; Albus had a day job somewhere else entirely. And in fact, at that point in time, unless all of those investigations were taking place during term breaks,, Albus would have been in a classroom teaching most days of the week, not running about London, or wherever Madam Smith lived, investigating murders, or the movements of a random shop assistant.
Somebody collected those memories, and they did it for a reason. And once it’s pointed out, there is Moody, right on the spot to have been professionally investigating suspicious deaths and missing property. Of course he would have collected evidence in the course of those investigations. And he probably made copies of things that Albus had already expressed an interest in.
I would say that the Hepzibah memory was taken at the time, directly from Hokey during the inital investigation. And no, indeed, we went into that memory and didn’t see anyone else present at that point, but Hokey herself, Madam Smith, and Tom Riddle.
I rather think that Tom had basically “hit and run” and had already fled abroad by the time Madam Smith’s death was being investigated. Which might not have been immediate. The lady was elderly, and it might have taken a few hours after the authorities were informed of her death before anyone thought to check for poison. Given that Tom was only known to have visited the house a couple of days earlier, they might have wanted to ask him about whether the lady had seemed well at that point, since I get a distinct impression that the DMLE isn’t going to be all that enthused about taking the word of a House Elf. However, if they had interviewed Tom, we might have seen the results of that interview as well, and we didn’t (although if Tom were especially plausible, Albus may have decided to suppress it, since that would interfere with the conclusions he wanted Harry to draw. Like most of Rowling’s explanations, there is less to it than first appears.)
I suspect that Morfin Gaunt may have already died in Azkaban, by that point, since collecting evidence for Morfin’s retrial is where Albus and Moody first started coordinating things between themselves, Moody would have already pricked up his ears at the name of Hepzibah’s last known visitor. And would have trotted off to fill Albus in on the progress he was making.
We know nothing about what kind of family the Moodys were. And I get the impression that if Alastor Moody decided to make a career out of hunting Dark wizards, he’d take care to learn everything about Dark wizards that he possibly could. And I’m pretty sure that that would include at least an overview of curse-laying, curse-breaking, and cursed objects.
I think that it is entirely possible that Moody might have already concluded that Riddle may have had a Horcrux. And he very well may have raised the possibility to Albus. For that matter, that may very well have been Moody that set Albus onto the track of eventually figuring out that, yes, Horcruxes, plural, were their problem.
As to the provenance of the individual memories in that presentation; while Albus admits that the Bob Ogden memory came from someone else, he never comes out and tells us the provenance of any of the other memories that comprise the “official Tom Riddle backstory” — apart from his own memory of giving Tom his Hogwarts letter, does he?
Do we actually see Albus in any of the others, apart from the one where Tom came to ask for the DADA position? I think that once Albus started agitating for a retrial for Morfin, and Moody was, at least hypothetically on board with the likelihood that the actual murderer in the Riddle case was Tom Riddle, I think we could make a fairly good case for the rest of the memories in that series, certainly the Burke memory, and that from Hepzibah’s Elf, Hokey, as having been collected by Moody in the course of his investigation of Tom Riddle.
Not, of course, that Albus was going to tell Harry that. Or tell the world that, either. After all, people in general seem to have an unaccountable degree of difficulty taking poor Alastor at his word. Somehow, people don’t find him to be altogether credible. Much better to present the information oneself, without telling them where it came from.
The Burke memory, unlike the others, is tightly edited to limit the number of distractions. In that one, we do not even enter the Pensieve, but have the memory rise and play out independently, so we cannot even see where it takes place, let alone who else may have been present. We do not even know whether the interrogation took place in B&B, or in the DMLE.
But I think we can safely conclude that at some point before very long into the inquery, Moody had turned up to ask questions about where Madam Smith’s missing property had come from. The cup had been in the Smith family for quite a while. But the locket had come from the same shop as the sales assistant who had recently been at the house. And you will notice that there is also no clue given as to just what question Burke was actually answering, since we never heard that, and have no info regarding who was asking it.
Bob Ogden’s memory of his own run-in with the Gaunt family was from a good 20 years earlier by the time Albus turned up to ask about the Gaunts. We don't know how old he was or how actively he was still in the field invesitgating. He could very well have deputized a young Moody to help chase this wild goose of Albus’s in re-investigating the evidence from the Riddle Massacre, in hopes of finding something other than a conversation in Parseltongue to base a retrial on. Or possibly to find if there was any additional information about sightings of that dark-haired teenaged boy which the Muggles had learned of at the time, which caused them to think twice about assuming that Frank Bryce must have had something to do with the deaths. The Aurors from the DMLE might have missed that information at the time, having simply zeroed in on Gaunt, who confessed to haveing killed the Riddles.
Moody certainly seems to have been old enough to have worked with Albus in the mid-’40s at any rate. Albus clearly considered Moody to be useful, and if Moody was young when he first started actually working with Albus (rather than just sitting in Albus’s classroom), it’s all the more likely that he would have felt honored and impressed enough by the “Defeater of Grendelwald” to follow Albus’s lead without raising questions.
But then, we’ve got something like a 50-year span of time for whatever their association was based on to have formed, so we can’t make any definite statements regarding it.
Actually, referring back to my hypothesis that Moody might have already known about Horcruxes, and had learned about them over the course of his training, Toms “elegantly wasted” appearance during Hokey’s memory might have been what raised suspicions as to what might have caused such an effect.
Moody might have raised the possibility at that point. If he already knew about Morfin’s maundering on about having lost his father’s ring, and had been told anything about Tom’s tendencies to take trophies, perhaps in connection with the Smith murder, he might have lept to the conclusion that Tom may have created one.
I’m inclined to doubt that he would have lept to the conclusion that he might have made additional ones from the two artifacts he’d stolen from Hepzibah Smith. Even Albus might not have assumed that, at the time. Or not until Tom returned and asked for the DADA post. By that time his appearance would have probably raised any number of suspicions, particularly if a possible Horcrux was already in the equation.
As to Moody knowing about Horcruxes, that’s sufficiently off-canon that we can pretty much roll our own. First, although Slughorn is telling Tom Riddle that the subject is banned at Hogwarts in what appears to be 1943, we don’t have any information as to just when that ban was instituted. Plus, Albus wasn’t the influential figure in wizarding society in ’43 that he became after ’45. He may very well have pressured Dippett into banning the subject, and removing the information from the Hogwarts library. But he was completely unlikely to have any influence on what was being taught elsewhere, like, oh, say, the Auror’s training program, or Gringotts. And he certainly had no influence on private families’ libraries.
As to the Smith murder; there are a couple of mildly confusing issues related to the account of Madam Smith’s death as Albus presents it. One is that the visit that Tom paid her took place a full couple of days before she was found dead. The other is that acto Albus, Hokey remembered stirring something into Madam Smith’s cocoa that wasn’t sugar. We didn’t see that happen in anybody’s memory. We were just told it. Presumably Albus was also just told it. It may be true, but it is hearsay evidence.
The other question is whether or not Madam Smith’s death was indeed the basis for the Cup Horcrux. Rowling claims that it was. In this case, I find it easier to believe Rowling than than to believe that Tom killed Madam Smith, stole the cup, and then killed some random, unnamed other person in order to turn it into a Horcrux.
But if Tom used Madam Smith’s death to create the Cup as a Horcrux, then he had to have been there, in the house, that very eveing. Rowling may claim that he created the Harrycrux accidentally, but the Cup was no accident, and I flatly do not believe that you can create a Horcrux remotely, over a long distance.
We are given to understand that Tom tampered with Morfin’s memory, first supressing the memory of his meeting with his uncle, and then overlaying it with a copy of his own memory of crossing the valley and murdering the Riddles. He was 15 at the time, so it may have been a fairly crude cut-and-paste job, which may explain why Albus was so easily able to undo it. But by the time of Madam Smith’s murder, Tom was probably rather better at such things.
Madam Smith’s murder appears to have been built to the same basic template. Tom was there at the house. He either erased, or suppressed Hokey’s memory of his presence and overlaid it with his memory of stiring the poison into the cocoa. He left the older memory of his earlier visit alone. That had taken place a couple of days earlier, and anyone else might have been to the house between those visits. Once Madam Smith had dismissed Hokey for the night, Tom possessed her, forced her to drink the poisoned cocoa, and waited while she died to make his Horcrux. Then he took the Cup and the Slytherin locket (and probably whatever lose cash was available), edited Hokey’s memory, possibly while she slept, and left, erasing any other indication of his presence. If he had missed anything, his visit a couple of days earlier would have explained it.
We don’t know how well memory tampering works on House Elves, but Hokey did not remember Tom visiting on the night that her Mistress died. And she did apparently remember something about the poisoned cocoa. (Although, if the poison was actually in the sugar bowl, that might have confused the issue.) And given that Albus was aware of the method used in framing Morfin, one wonders why he did not attempt to discover whether Hokey’s memory had been similarly tampered with.
Unless, of course, the whole business went down while he was tied up in his classroom at Hogwarts, and by the time he learned of any of it, it was all too late.
How I think the investigation of Madam Smith’s death may have gone (there is plenty of wiggle-room) is that in the morning Hokey found her mistress dead in the sitting room.
She was elderly, but she wasn’t ill, so, being a sudden death, it was reported. I don’t know if the Ministry or DMLE have the equivalent of a Coroner, but given that the office of the Coroner dates well beyond the date of Wizarding Seclusion, I would suspect that they might. So, somebody from that office would have been sent to investigate and determine the cause of death, which was fairly quickly discovered to be poison.
We don’t know how late in the day this was determined, but Madam Smith doesn’t seem to have been a sufficiently public figure for there to have been any urgency about it.
We don’t know how long it took for the missing artifacts to be discovered. That would have raised a lot of new questions, and probably a great deal of outcry, uproar, and accusations within the family, since I don’t think anybody is likely to have believed that a devoted House Elf would have murdered her long-time Mistress in order to rob her.
There would certainly have been a full investigation. And there certainly would have been some attention paid to whether the artifacts had turned up anywhere obvious, like B&B, and Burke would have been questioned about the locket at least, since Hepzibah had acquired that from Burke at some point within the past decade or two. I suspect that the investigation eventually petered out with a handy scapegoat, and without truely satisfactory results, and may be in a cold case file somewhere in the DMLE. But either Moody, or someone in the DMLE appears to have known of Albus’s investigation regarding a certain Tom Riddle, and brought it to his attention, or Albus would not have those memories in his collection.
Which now leads me more and more to draw the conclusion that Morfin had probably survived his 2nd stint in Azkaban until very near to the time that Hepzibah Smith was murdered. And, if Tom had friends working in the Ministry who might have passed the word that Albus Dumbeldore was trying to get Morfin Gaunt a retrial, that might have prompted him to seek Madam Smith out and collect his heirloom locket before leaving the country.
We don’t know how long ago Hepzibah purchased the locket. It could have been anything up to 20 years earlier. But I am reasonably certain that Tom had already found that purchase in the shop’s records. He may have been waiting for her to come back in order to strike up an association. But if he was planning to leave the country at that point, he might have decided to advance his interests by contacting her claiming it was on behalf of B&B on some pretext. Chiefly, no doubt, to discover whether she still had the locket, and whether it was still in her possession, rather than in a Gringotts vault. And if so, he intended to make sure to get it from her, one way or another, before leaving Britain. Not least because he had no idea how long he would be gone, and the woman was old enough to die in the meantime, and her collection to be broken up among her heirs and the locket might end up anywhere.
He never anticipated finding the Cup as well, since that had been in the Smith family long enough to have not been in any dealer’s records.
Stealing his uncle’s ring, on the other hand, was pure trophy taking. Morfin was already being set up to take the fall for murdering the Riddles, and the ring would be of no use to him in Azkaban. It might have been an ugly old thing, but it was about the only thing in that hovel with any intrinsic value. And Tom did like to take trophies to remind him of his victories.
Rowling did tell us at one point that Albus, although not a Parselmouth himself, could understand the language when it was spoken by a human. She later reversed herself and claimed that it wasn’t a language that could be learned. But, since that makes complete nonsense of the way she uses it in canon, I think that statement can be safely dispensed with. It’s a language. If it’s audible, it can probably be decrypted by some form of translation spell. Otherwise I cannot see any reason why Albus would be trying to build any kind of a trail of evidence on memories of conversations which were conducted entirely in Parseltongue.
Another pure speculation is that Albus’s chiding Tom about rumors of Tom’s activities that had reached the school, and that he should be sorry to believe half of them, was very likely as close to a declaration that Albus would be watching Tom’s activities henceforth, as Albus was capable of making.
After all, we have never been told of any suspicious activities in which Tom had been engaged since his return to Britain, and that, consequently, by such “rumors” Albus may well have been referring to both the Riddle Massacre, and the death of Madam Smith.
And then he goes on to out Aberforth as being one of his informants. WTF? You don’t give away your sources of information to an all-but-declared enemy!
Apparantly, if you ever put Tom and Albus in a room together, Albus is probably going to lose control of the situation and do something inasvisable. Even if he does appear to come out of the confrontation with the upper hand.
And it has finally sunk in that my use of the term “hubris” to describe Albus’s faults was absolutely, unmistakably, literally spot-on.
We are dealing with a veritable Greek tragedy here. In the full-bore Classical tradition. And this is not just a thin overlay of the problem, either. It underlies everything.
This Greek tragedy enactment goes all the way to the bone. It took me months after finally concluding that Albus must have turned that Prophecy loose deliberately, before the inherent classical tragedy underlying the series began to surface. And I really have no excuse not to have seen it earlier.
ETA: Rowling will probably never admit that Albus Dumbledore turned the Prophecy loose deliberately. But, quite frankly, she’s lied to us before. And everything in the whole progression of this story from the point that it got loose supports my contention that he did indeed do exactly that.
I mean, come on, we are dealing with the fallout from a Prophecy, here! How many Greek tragedies can you say that about? (Clue: just about all of the best-known ones.)
The central figures of Greek myths almost universally set the wheels of their own destruction in motion by first getting above themselves and attracting the attention of the Gods, and then trying to evade a fate foretold. Riddle’s actions are a perfect example of this particular road to ruin. And so is Albus.
It is abundantly clear that Albus also finally came to grief trying to use a Prophecy to take down an enemy and to manipulate how everything would all play out. This was unworthy. It was a betrayal of everything he had ever claimed to stand for. And he gradually found himself forced to comply with it anyway. (Yes, cross that river and destroy a great empire. We’re not going to tell you that the empire you destroy will be your own.)
Upon consideration, I think I may be way off-base in my statement above that it was only in the last year of his life that he began to realize how badly he had mismanaged things. He may have been quite consiously dodging that particular bullet for the previous wizarding generation. That final year was just the year when all those chickens finally came home to roost.
I’ll provisionally cut him some slack in that he may have originally hoped to spook Riddle into doing something so reckless that they could have shut him down before he could get at the child who was foretold in it. Possibly before the kid was even born. But even if Albus did never study Divination, as he claims, he really ought to have known better. Prophecies just don’t work like that.
The prophecy demons must really have caught Albus at his very weakest and most vulnerable point in order to have duped him so easily. Because Albus clearly knows exactly what a Prophecy is worth. They are all lies. He knows that they are spontaneous eruptions of Dark magic, which will turn on you if you try to do anything to direct them. Not merely turn on the person you direct them at, they will turn on you. And he went and did it anyway.
For years, Albus was believed by many to be the greatest wizard of modern times. And we can now recognize that he was conceited enough to secretly agree with them.
Such people attract attention of the Prophecy demons. Particularly once they start believing their own publicity. Being the “greatest wizard” probably includes being a master of Dark magic as well as the more “domesticated” sort. But even so, to believe that he could direct the outcome of something like a Prophecy was an unmistakably, classic piece of hubris.
Right off the top, he lied to himself. He convinced himself that he could deploy the Prophecy, carefully edited, and scam Riddle into setting up his own destruction. The gamble may be paying off in the long run, but the cost is far higher than Albus ever anticipated, and much of the price is of a kind he was not really willing to pay. And any opportunity of being able to tweak the timing absolutely did not happen.
By deploying that Prophecy he also created the whole unnecessary complication of the Harrycrux — which was not a part of the solution, and which now had to be dealt with as well as the rest of the Horcruxes.
He also does not seem to have realized that he trapped himself just as surely as he trapped Riddle, until after the wheels were already in motion; forcing himself into a perfectly odious line of action that was not really in his nature (and required him to take responsibility for things). However much he tried to shirk it.
First off, he couldn’t just stand back and let it all happen without him. That’s not the way an Albus Dumbledore operates. Not if he intended to remain on top of matters. And certainly not if he wanted to know who the foretold child was (assuming there even was such a child), to provide the child with some sort of concealment until Albus deemed it time to unleash him, and to oversee his training. In short, he had to break a lifelong habit and get involved. (Which you will notice he did as remotely as possible.)
So, first he founded the Order of the Phoenix** and staffed it with some of his most trusted associates and everyone he could find who had managed to “defy” the Dark Lord the requsite three times. Believing that then he could back off, and they could all watch each other’s backs, under his occasional direction.
**Rowling implies not, and I've since re-thought his reason for doing so, as well. But I'll leave this iteration of the theory here for consideration. I still believe that it reads far more plausibly for Albus to have only formed the Order after he put the edited Prophecy in play. Otherwise we are left with no earthly reason — apart from contempt for any and all legitimate authorities — for why he would have done so. Conversely there is that posibility that he formed the Order just in time to invite James Potter and his associates into it as soon as they finished school, knowing that James was a Peverill descendant, in order to continue to “cultivate” him. Frankly, this reading would be far more plausible in one of the more sophisticated Evil!Albus interpretations.
But he doesn’t seem to have told them what the Order was really all about. The Order don’t seem to have been told there even was a Prophecy. (Or not until Year 5, when they were guarding the record of it, at which point any of the more intelligent of them might have figured it out.) They just knew that they needed to protect each other, particularly the children. I suspect that it was only Albus (and just possibly Snape — who was not in the Order, and, at a stretch, Aberforth, who was) who knew why.
Then he started having to treat people — people that he knew personally — as pieces on a game board, while waiting for the child to be born.
The chain of actions he now found himself engaged in must have gone completely against the grain, since Riddle wasn’t taking the bait and putting himself at risk. Instead he had escalated this war, and everyone else was now at even greater risk.
And, conversely, once Albus realized that he now had to oversee the Prophecy as it played out (which could have been as quickly as ten minutes after he let Snape get away without obliviating it from him), he finally realized that the first phase of it, and the whole point of turning it loose in oders to create some super-special, mystic hero, was for the kid to be “marked” by the enemy, so he would be qualified to solve their Dark Lord problem for them. That must have really made Albus’s day.
He is a very detached old gent, but I really did not think that he was quite as hard-hearted or cold-blooded as Rowling retroactively portrayed him in DHs, and the people he actually knew were usually real to him, not just animate chessmen. His response was to try to forestall the inevitable. By the time Harry and Neville were born, he was totally at cross-purposes with himself.
And then Sirius Black waded in and made a pig’s breakfast of Albus’s carefully laid plans (for the second time!) and Albus ended up with his future hero marked after all — losing the kid’s parents in the process. Now he had a disembodied enemy who wasn’t dead, and he had to take responsibility for the kid and its welfare. (No no nonono…)
He distanced himself by laying a blood protection on the kid and dumping him on his mother’s sister (despite Minerva’s account of just what kind of people the Dursleys were), setting Arabella Figg within range to keep watch, and never showing his face in the vicinity again.
All a basic course of action which is the kind of calculating behavior you would expect from a Rufus Scrimgeour. Fortunately (or unfortunately) Albus Dumbledore is no Rufus Scrimgeour. Our Rufus would have started training Harry as soon as his magic became trainable and would have thrown him at Tom at the earliest possible opportunity. Preferably before Tom managed to make a physical return to the wizarding world at all.
But not Albus. Pro-active problem solving is just not in his wheelhouse.
And all of Albus’s disassociating himself turned out to be for nothing once Harry finally showed up in person, looking like a scrawny little underdog. If Albus’s track record with Hagrid (and Snape? And possible others?) was anything to go by, Albus Dumbledore may have had a soft spot for underdogs. And then Harry completely won his heart by unnecessarily plunging into the labyrinth to “save” the Philosopher’s Stone.
From that point there was no looking back. From that point, everything was for Harry.
To the exclusion of just about everybody else. Even to the exclusion of any kind of common sense. After they all (except the Flamels) managed to survive the adventure of the Philosopher’s Stone, we watched Albus strenuously attempting to convince himself that their Dark Lord problem had effectively already been solved. That they could just keep blocking Tom’s return attempts until he never managed to return. That was his story to Harry anyway. I wonder which of them he was trying to convince?
It was only as the casualty count began to rise, and ended up including students in his care, which at the end of OotP finally forced him to return to Plan A. It was only by sheer blind luck that none of those kids at the DoM with Harry had managed to get themselves killed.
Harry’s raid on the DoM appeared to have finally taught Albus a long-needed lesson. Leaving the boy untrained and uninformed was just too dangerous. It might be possible to keep blocking Voldemort. But it was not possible to keep blocking both Voldemort and Harry, together.
He had set this in motion. He had no excuse. He got the hero he had been asking for. And, as he had admitted all the way back in PS/SS, humans have a knack for wanting exactly what is worst for them. The boy needed to be given his mission and turned loose to attempt it.
And NONE of this was ever necessary. You do not need to create a super-special, mystic hero to take out a handful of Horcruxes. You need a bunch of volunteers who are willing to commit to what may be a suicide mission. You need to share information, and you need to develop some confidence and faith in the followers you’ve already got.
And he’d have had volunteers. Even Reggie Black was willing to take a shot at it, and he was playing on the other team!
How may lives have been lost due to Albus having put all his eggs in the Harry Potter basket? I made it at 11 by the end of HBP, not counting *any* of the Order members from the first war, apart from James, Lily, and Sirius. And Albus, himself.
On the other hand, Lily Potter bought him nearly 14 years of peace.
Which he wasted.
It’s been pointed out to me that if the above is the case, then Albus’s statement in HBP, chapter 23 about the significance of the Prophecy to Voldemort and Harry being voluntary on their parts comes across as both dishonest and hypocritical.
I’m not convinced it proves anything of the sort. You have to consider that Albus may be playing the “sadder but wiser” card by the time that conversation took place. And he may believe he has a very good reason to not be completely forthcoming with Harry yet. He had been worn down by over 20 years of fighting against Riddle before the Prophecy demons threw temptation in his path. And I still think he succumbed in a moment of weakness.
By the end of OotP, however, Albus had obviously got a clue. That tear that Harry didn’t notice signified something. We can’t be altogether certain of what, but it may be more than just the avowed emotional mistake of getting too attached to Harry and letting things fall through the cracks elsewhere.
But I very much doubt that tear was on Sirius Black’s account.
I am suddenly flashing on Patricia McKillup’s ‘A Riddle of Stars’ trilogy wherein the Land Ruler of the whole world,
...who has been living in hiding for generations and masquerading as his own servant, states to the young hero who he has been putting through all sots of appalling situations, that he had never dared to hope that he would be given an heir that he could love.
At that point in the story arc Albus Dumbledore had just gotten it hammered home that he had created this appointed hero for a purpose, and that purpose made it a hopeless mistake to grow too fond of the boy, because; 1. he could lose him., and; 2. he had to risk him, and; 3. ultimately, when the boy learns the truth he will know that it was Albus who first betrayed him. (Which, imho, would have played far better than the weaseling cop-out of a distraction over Gellert Grindelwald that Rowling finally gave us.)
I really do believe that the statement he made about being so much smarter than most people that his mistakes were correspondingly huger than theirs, too, was an acknowledgement that he finally realizes that HE set them all on their current path, and that it had been a mistake from the beginning.
And they cannot bail, because Voldemort isn’t going to turn loose of his end of the rope.
And, I really do begin to wonder whether what the green potion showed him was, in detail, every single result of turning loose that Prophecy, with the full cost in human lives.