Well. So. We now have the “official” Dumbledore backstory.
You will just have to excuse me for pointing out that I do not find the official Dumbledore backstory significantly more complete or any more convincing than the official Riddle backstory. Or, for that matter, the Potter backstory, or the Snape backstory. Maybe backstories just aren’t Rowling’s forte..
Or maybe she deliberately wants us to do the heavy lifting ourselves. I can live with that.
But in any case we’ve got some problems here. At least three major ones as far as I can make out.
First: there is the question of just what happened to Ariana.
Second: there is Albus’s fatal brush with wizarding Supremacist politics.
And, third: where does Bathilda Bagshott fit into it. Because it is obvious that she does, but it is unclear as to where, or how (or why)
• • • •
Until the first of September 2007 when Albus Dumbledore was featured as the Wizard of the Month on JK Rowling’s old official website we also had the unanswered question of just what time frame all of this backstory was taking place in. Because nothing that Rowling showed us in DHs matched up with her claims, some years earlier, that Albus had been about 150 years old at the end of GoF. Everything she showed us was from the wrong period altogether.
Well, as Rowling finally ’fessed up, he wasn’t any 150 years old, after all. He was 115. Although it only came out to that by her flubbing the date of his death, which her site stated to have been in 1996. Er, sorry Jo. The tower tumble was in 1997. It took place in June, remember? Harry’s 6th year only began in 1996.
We cannot be altogether certain just what the rationale was for changing these dates, but most fans attribute it to the otherwise implausible length of time before Albus could be shamed into finally confronting Gellert Grindelwald and taking him into custody. They could well be right. It would have been difficult to justify an ever-growing Dark rising in Eastern Europe that lasted from approximately 1860 to 1945 that no one seems to have ever had any cause to mention over the course of the series. And she was already stuck with 1945 as the year that Albus put a stop to it.
Although this particular muddle might explain those otherwise inexplicable comments in the first couple of books about Tom Riddle being “the most dangerous Dark wizard in a hundred years”. A Gellert Grindelwald who launched his bid for power in the 1860s would certainly be 100 years earlier than a Tom Riddle who did the same in the 1960s.
• • • •
But until September 2007 we were flummoxed. We get a family portrait of the Dumbledores when Ariana was a baby “about the size of a loaf of bread”. Their mother Kendra is described as wearing a high-necked silk gown. The two boys appear to be wearing what are unmistakably Fauntleroy suits. A classic late Victorian family portrait.
Well, okay. Get-ups resembling what are referred to as Fauntleroy suits had been worn by little boys with fanciful mothers for a good long while over the 19th century, but they are particularly associated with the 1880s, after Frances Hodgeson Burnett wrote her tale of 7-year-old Cedric Errol, Little Lord Fauntleroy (serialized in St Nicholas magazine in 1885). And you would not have seen that specifically high-necked style of day dress much before the 1890s. Indeed, back in the 1840s the most distinguishing features of a woman’s costume would have been the billowingly full sleeves and the sloped shoulders. High-necked “Sunday best” day dresses only really became popular from the ’70s on, cumulating in the whale-boned choker-style collars of the ’90s and 1900s.
So, okay. We are told that the scandal over Percival’s arrest and imprisonment was still fresh when Albus started Hogwarts, about a year after it took place. The scandal took place when Ariana was 6. Albus could not have been more than 5 years older than Ariana, and seems to have been more like 4. If Ariana was a baby in arms when high-necked day dresses and little boys’ Fauntleroy suits were popular, that would have the photograph taken somewhere around 1885, give or take a bit. The Dumbledores seem to have been fully conversant with Muggle fashion, apparently. But then if Kendra was indeed Muggle-born, this would hardly be surprising.
The only thing we have that would give us any kind of number to pin things to is the Weasley’s Auntie Muriel, (aka “the Hag at the wedding” who claims to be 107. She will tell you so, in fact she already has. Repeatedly) listening at the door when her own mother and Bathilda Bagshott were discussing a glimpse that Bathilda had once got of Ariana and Kendra, and their mysterious deaths, which had taken place some time before. We do not know how old Muriel was when she was listening at that door. Presumably not over the age of 10, unless the conversation took place when she was home from Hogwarts during a term break.
If the conversation took place when she was 10, around 1900, and the photograph was taken in the mid-1880s, then Ariana, who died at the age of 14, would have been only recently dead. And Albus would have been no more than 18 at the time. And we have been told that he was still 17 when his mother was killed. (Evidently Albus, like Harry, had a summer birthday).
And NOTHING that we were told over the course of the book would give us any reason to question this speculation. It would have taken some 40 years before Grindelwald (who was about 16–17 when Ariana was killed) was enough of a problem on the continent that people were beginning to nag Albus to “do something” about it and another 5 before Albus was persuaded to comply with the general consensus that he was the best man for the job.
Which would make him about 64 at the time of their final duel, and 62 when we saw him in Tom Riddle’s memory back in CoS. He would have been around 57 when he brought Tom his Hogwarts letter, and had just turned 100 when he left Harry on the Dursley’s doorstep. None of which is implausible except for Rowling’s completely unsupported interview comment that he was 150 back during the 3-year summer.
So it was obvious that we needed to bag the “150 years old” along with the “epitome of goodness” thing even before September. Rowling may have meant it back when she said it, but she shot herself in the foot if she still meant it when she sat down and wrote the Weasley wedding.
Because Muriel clearly remembers Kendra Dumbledore. Calls her a terrifying old woman. (She probably chased all the neighbor kids away from the house so they wouldn’t upset Ariana.) Even if Muriel was only 4 or 5 when she formed those memories and the eavesdropping was years later, her lifespan would have overlapped Kendra’s, and Muriel is 107 in 1997.
Kendra died just when Albus finished Hogwarts. He might have even sat his NEWTs and left the school directly with Doge to set out on their Grand Tour before getting his results. He was almost immediately called home to deal with things, possibly even before Aberforth returned from Hogwarts. And it’s pretty clear that Albus and Gellert were only friends for a matter of a couple of months over that same summer. Ariana most probably died at the end of the summer break, just before Aberforth was packed back off to Hogwarts.
Which would place Ariana’s death in the summer of 1899. Muriel, who would have been born in 1890 would not yet have been at Hogwarts.
Muriel could have eavesdropped at any time over the following year. It was likely to have still been a talking point for some time afterwards. Indeed Bathilda, might not have been willing to say a great deal about it herself for a few months, given her great-nephew’s presence at the time.
• • • •
Which brings us back to Ariana.
As of the release of the film version of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ we can fairly safely conclude just what we are supposed to believe happened regarding Ariana. We all had something like a decade to try to figure it out ourselves before that, however.
A great many fans seem to have been determined to sexualize the attack and postulate that Ariana was gang-raped, and never got over the trauma. They are also determined to sexualize Aberforth and his goats. I am inclined to suspect that both of these issues are invitations to lead ourselves up the garden path.
In Aberforth’s case, the manner in which Rowling answered a question posed by an 8-year-old during an appearance at Carnegie Hall in October 2007, in which she blatantly pretended that the answer she was giving an 8-year-old was not the answer she might have given an older questioner, contributed mightily to the general perception.
In point of fact I doubt that she would have answered the question in any way other than she did regardless of who asked it, but had the questioner been older, the joke would have been framed differently, by no doubt pointing out the presence of young children in the audience. While a joke of mocking the fact that it was a young child who was asking about Aberforth and his goats was in somewhat poor taste, the real joke seems more likely to have been upon the rest of the audience for being so sure that they already knew the answer. In point of fact, Rowling has never told us anything regarding ’Forth and his goats which would require us to regard it as the truth. (For the record I think Aberforth runs a nice little sideline of producing bezoars from his goats and may early on have botched an experimental charm to that end. Unless my postulation over in the Briar Patch regarding Aberforth and his goat is more to your taste.)
As for Ariana; I believe that the reasoning behind the usual attempt to explain her condition lies in the widespread belief that only a sexual attack would explain such an extreme traumatic reaction with such long-term effects.
It is my own suspicion that trying to blow up what we have been given into a rape scenario is a mistake. We have no evidence of a rape, no hint of a rape, and no reason to look for one. The kids who forced their way into the yard were children. Probably no older than Ariana’s brothers.
And besides, you don’t rape someone to stop them from performing magic. You hit them on the head.
And the fact that Ariana was never able to control her magic afterwards is a lot more suggestive to me of a brain trauma than an emotional one.
I have been assuming from the beginning that she suffered a head injury in the confrontation with those neighbor kids. After all, the ww already has a universal panacea for strictly emotional trauma, and it isn’t the least bit hesitant to use it. Obliviate would have probably wiped the whole incident from her mind, and if the spell took more than just the incident, well, she was only six, and that’s young enough to relearn a lot.
Of course there is also the possibility that the charm was botched. We’ve never heard that either Percival or Kendra had any training in medical magic. Bertha Jorkins showed long-term memory damage from a botched Obliviate inflicted by her employer. But she was still a witch and still performed magic. She even was still able to recognize Peter Pettigrew when she encountered him in Albania. A botched Obliviate alone would not explain Ariana’s refusal to use her magic. Unless, perhaps, it was so throughly botched that she could no longer recognize that the magic was her own, and it terrified her.
But if there was an organic injury which made it impossible for Ariana to control her magic, that’s another story.
• • • •
Let’s take another look at just what we have here. Aberforth states:
“When my sister was six years old, she was attacked, by three Muggle boys. They’d seen her doing magic, spying through the back garden hedge: She was a kid, she couldn’t control it, no witch or wizard can at that age. What they saw, scared them, I expect. They forced their way through the hedge, and when she couldn’t show them the trick, they got a bit carried away trying to stop the little freak doing it.”
And you just stood there and watched while three neighbor kids beat up your little sister? That really doesn’t line up with anything we’ve ever been told about you, Aberforth.
You’re busted, ’Forth. You weren’t there. You’d slipped out through the hedge yourself and were off in a field butting heads with the goats or something. Maybe you were supposed to be there, keeping an eye on your sister, but you weren’t.
And your story, as told, doesn’t hang together or make much sense.
Did the Muggles hit her because she was doing magic and they were trying to make her stop, or because she couldn’t do magic on their command? Or because she told them that she couldn’t teach them to do it too because they were Muggles, and they took it as an insult? It isn’t likely to have been both as you are trying to claim.
And if what they saw frightened them, why would they have forced their way into the yard to stop it? Wouldn’t it have been more reasonable to expect them to have run away, and maybe spread a story which wouldn’t have been believed?
I think that by the time you got home it was all over, and your father had already been hauled off to Azkaban.
So. Are you just relaying to us what your mother (“Secrets and lies, that’s how we grew up,”) told you, and randomly embroidering on it? Because it sounds like that to me.
And since Aberforth was only 7 or 8 at the time, himself, I doubt that Kendra went into detail. Ariana had been dead for nearly 100 years, and I wouldn’t count upon even the most devoted brother remembering everything with perfect clarity by this time.
• • • •
Y’know what this whole Dumbledore backstory is beginning to sound like to me? It begins to sound like a late iteration in a round of “Telephone”.
I’m reminded of Tanith Lee’s very first book, a juvie entitled ‘The Dragon's Hoard’ (from 1974 or thereabouts). In it the two children of a royal family are lumbered with birthday curses by a witch, both of which are due to last for a full year, and since the curse on the Princess is likely to beggar the kingdom in that time, the Prince sets off (despite his own curse) to try to bring back a fortune to restore the exchequer when the year is over.
Along the way he joins a band of about 50 Princes and young Lords and other questers, who all set off together to win the Dragon’s hoard.
In one of the little kingdoms where one of the secondary Princes joins up, the King makes an announcement that whoever finds the Hoard and secures it shall marry that kingdom’s Princess (a hopelessly silly girl, with lapdogs, iirc)..
“But you haven’t got to, if you’d rather not.” Her brother whispers to the hero, “That’s only father’s idea. Pass it on.”
So the message gets passed on until it reaches the last of them, a king’s son from somewhere, named Silius, who pops up asking what; “Buttered on one toe, if you drove a nut. That’s sunny for the side ear. Parsley scone,” meant.
• • • •
Which raises the whole issue of just how much of the public record has been altered to serve the family’s determination to shield Ariana, and why.
We’ve got a 6-year old witch here, who has been attacked by three other children. How do you think she is going to react?
Why did Uncle Algie threaten to drop Neville off the Blackpool pier? Why did he dangle him out the window? Because he was trying to frighten some magic out of him, that’s why. Harry ended up on top of the roof of the school kitchens when he was in a similar situation (Dudley’s gang hadn’t managed to get hold of him yet). I think we’ve got a much simpler explanation than an outraged father seeking revenge, right under our noses.
I think it was Ariana who injured the Muggles, in a violent burst of accidental magic. Percival (deliberately) took the blame.
In his case, the knowledge that he was innocent of the actual crime probably wasn’t enough to save him from the Dementors. He also was not an Animagus and was not able to escape the Dementors effects by shifting into animal form as Sirius did.
And at any rate, the fact that Ariana unquestionably was the one to have inadvertently killed their mother would certainly support the possibility that she could have been the one to injure the Muggles who attacked her.
• • • •
So let’s try that reading on for size:
The Ministry would have been alerted almost at once, Mould-on-the-Wold is only a semi-wizarding village, and accidents do happen. The whole village would have been monitored for untoward magical outbursts, and certainly for anything like an attack on Muggles.
I think it was Percival who got to Ariana first, because he was closest — and it was probably more than just Ariana’s screams that brought him on the run, the Muggles were screaming too.
But I don’t think that Kendra and Albus were far away. For one thing, would Aurors have hauled Percival away and left Ariana in the house alone? Would they have left her there without even examining her and getting her story of what had happened? Especially if she had been injured. She would at least be assumed to have been frightened.
Albus (who Aberforth’s account makes sound a hell of a lot like Percy Weasley) may have just been up in his room, reading. Kendra might have just been in the kitchen, up to her elbows in something. But Percival got there first.
I think Kendra scooped Ariana up and bundled her into the house and out of sight before the Ministry made its appearance.
Which now makes me wonder just how far we may be leading ourselves up the garden path. If the Muggle boys were on the Dumbledore property, having pushed through the hedge, wouldn’t there have been a question raised of defense against trespassers? Even if the trespassers did turn out to be only children? Would that have really sent a householder to Azkaban? Or are we still missing something?
• • • •
I think we may be.
Even the Ministry wouldn’t haul a small child off to Azkaban for a piece of accidental magic. Not even if it injured someone.
I do think the Ministry may have been in one of its Muggle-protective cycles around then, and demonizing wizards who attacked Muggles (particularly for no obvious cause — other than perhaps trespassing) may have been SOP. Such behavior would have rocked the boat and endangered secrecy, of course. And, in fact, Aberforth brings up the point that Ariana would have been regarded as a security risk if anyone knew of her condition.
Except that her “condition” presumably hadn’t manifested yet at that point. Not if the Muggles’ attack is what caused it.
So why did Percival sacrifice his life, liberty and sanity by leaping into the breech in his daughter’s defense if she is unlikely to have been held responsible for her actions?
Ariana’s brothers (who don’t seem to have actually been on the spot at the time of the original attack) were certainly told something. Enough that it is clear that neither of them despised their father for his alleged crime, at least. And neither of them ever allowed any question to arise that it was anyone other than their father who had injured the Muggles. Certainly not Ariana herself. In fact, only the family’s most intimate acquaintances were even aware of Ariana’s existence.
But we cannot be sure just what or how much Ariana’s brothers were actually told. Aberforth was aware of the fact that first the Muggles had hurt or frightened Ariana. But he doesn’t make it a bit clear just how much time all of this attack, counter-attack, and arrest is supposed to have actually covered.
I am inclined to think it all took place right there in the Dumbledore’s back garden, with the Ministry alerted all but immediately when the magical attack took place (much as when Harry blew up his Aunt Marge). And both of the brothers were pretty much sworn to secrecy on the matter. They seem not to have ever questioned that Ariana needed to be kept hidden afterwards, and no one seems to have questioned the reading that she would have ended up in the locked ward in St Mungos if anyone had ever gotten a good look at her.
But, in fact, from everything that anyone has ever had to say of the matter it sounds very much as if no qualified Healer or mediwitch ever saw Ariana. Not even in the immediate aftermath of the assault. The family was determined to cover up even the fact that there had been an assault.
Which, in a way, might tend to support the general determination to read the assault as a sexual assault. That does make it seem more believable that the family would attempt to hush the matter up, if there were perceived to be something shameful about the attack in itself. However the determined insistence in all accounts upon the youth of the Muggles who attacked Ariana would appear to discount the likelihood of the attack being anything of the sort. The matter still appears to have been a case of an assault made upon a child by three other children.
So just what were the Dumbledores all hiding?
• • • •
It is fairly astonishing just what kids will accept as “normal” when they are young enough not to question their own family situations. But I will have to admit that I am not altogether convinced from Aberforth’s account that the attack really was the cause of Ariana’s condition. He claims that it was and we seem to be expected to draw that conclusion. Most readers do.
But given the ww’s tolerance for all but the most extreme of head cases, how can we be sure that the violent incident when she was six was the real cause of Ariana’s problems? Her own family seem to have been suspiciously quick to assume that the incident was going to have long-term effects, regardless of what they did in response to it.
Maybe we are all looking in the wrong direction.
Aberforth Dumbledore’s existence was first introduced to us in GoF, along with the tale of his having been formally called to account for practicing inappropriate charms on a goat, and his brother Albus’s comment that he wasn’t sure that Aberforth knew how to read.
That was all the way back in the year 2000. Rather a lot of readers have since postulated various developmental and/or learning disabilities in connection with both of these matters. We have been shown nothing in canon that would absolutely contradict any of these postulations.
Somewhat more recently, on one of my listgroups there was a debate running off-and-on which started some months before DHs came out, as to whether Albus himself might have had Asperger’s syndrome.
Because, for all his cleverness, he certainly doesn’t seem to understand people’s feelings very well, or to really know how to relate to people, or to treat people appropriately, if it comes to that. And as pointed out by the “list mom” he seems completely careless of how his behavior comes across to other people, even when that carelessness clearly harms his own interests.
This discussion also finally spun off the subject of Albus to round up the possibility of ADHD, possibly with dyslexia, as being a factor for Aberforth.
Given that such conditions as ADHD, dyslexia, and Autism/Asperger’s tend to cluster and combine, and tend to run in families raises the question as to whether the encounter with the three Muggle neighbor kids had much of anything to do with Ariana’s condition.
It wouldn’t have helped. That’s for damned sure. But it may have done no more than to aggravate an underlying condition. Maybe we have to finally question as to whether, whatever the problem was, if it might not have already been pre-existing.
The rest of the family seemed awfully certain that the girl would end up locked up in St Mungo’s if anyone ever got a good look at her, didn’t they? They certainly oughtn’t to have thought that from any purely physical injury. And with two other headcases of varying degrees sitting right there at the family table...
Well, now that the possibility of something “running in the family” has been brought up, maybe we ought to take another look at Ariana. And Kendra, and Percival, for that matter.
A few snippets from the Wikipedia entries on Autism and related pathologies:
Autism is one of the five autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Of the other four autism spectrum disorders, Asperger’s syndrome is closest to autism in signs and likely causes; Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder share several signs with autism but may have unrelated causes; finally, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) is diagnosed when the criteria are not met for a more specific disorder. Unlike autism, Asperger’s has no significant delay in language development.
ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) can sometimes be diagnosed by age 14 months, but a 2006 U.S. study found the average age of first evaluation by a qualified professional was 48 months and of formal ASD diagnosis was 61 months, reflecting an average 13-month delay, all far above recommendations.
Early studies of twins estimated heritability to be more than 90%; in other words, that genetics explains more than 90% of autism cases. This may be an overestimate; new twin data and models with structural genetic variation are needed. When only one identical twin is autistic, the other often has learning or social disabilities. For adult siblings, the risk of having one or more features of the broader autism phenotype might be as high as 30%, much higher than the risk in controls. As late as the mid-1970s there was little evidence of a genetic role in autism; now it is thought to be one of the most heritable of all psychiatric conditions.
(And while we are at it; regarding Asperger’s Syndrome:)
Named after the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger (1906–80), Asperger syndrome is a relatively new diagnosis in the field of autism. In 1944, Asperger described four children in his practice who had difficulty in integrating themselves socially. Although their intelligence appeared normal, the children lacked nonverbal communication skills, failed to demonstrate empathy with their peers, and were physically clumsy. Asperger called the condition “autistic psychopathy” and described it as primarily marked by social isolation. He called his young patients “little professors”, and believed they would be capable of exceptional achievement and original thought later in life. His paper was published during wartime and in German, so it was not widely read elsewhere.
The lack of demonstrated empathy is possibly the most dysfunctional aspect of Asperger syndrome. Individuals with AS experience difficulties in basic elements of social interaction, which may include a failure to develop friendships or enjoy spontaneous interests or achievements with others, a lack of social or emotional reciprocity, and impaired nonverbal behaviors such as eye contact, facial expression, posture, and gesture.
Unlike those with autism, people with AS are not usually withdrawn around others; they approach others, even if awkwardly, for example by engaging in a one-sided, long-winded speech about an unusual topic while being oblivious to the listener’s feelings or reactions, such as signs of boredom or wanting to leave. This social awkwardness has been called “active, but odd”. This failure to react appropriately to social interaction may appear as disregard for other people’s feelings, and may come across as insensitive. The cognitive ability of children with AS often lets them articulate social norms in a laboratory context, where they may be able to show a theoretical understanding of other people’s emotions; however, they typically have difficulty acting on this knowledge in fluid real-life situations. People with AS may analyze and distill their observation of social interaction into rigid behavioral guidelines and apply these rules in awkward ways—such as forced eye contact—resulting in demeanor that appears rigid or socially naive. Childhood desires for companionship can be numbed through a history of failed social encounters.
• • • •
What if Ariana was to some degree autistic?
Because this whole discussion is raising the possibility that Ariana might have gone on to have had major problems even if that hedge had been impenetrable. Does what we have been told of her problems sound like (actually fairly severe) autism to you? It sounds like it might be to me.
And the family still cannot bear to admit that she was born that way?
Of course not! Blame the Muggle neighbor boys, who got into the garden and upset the apple cart!
But then blaming someone else for the fact that something has gone wrong with your (inadequate) security measures seems to be pretty standard operational procedure for the whole Dumbledore family, doesn’t it? Even Aberforth’s shifting of the responsibility for the final act of the tragedy onto Albus may not be unrelated to some unacknowledged feeling of guilt for having not been there when his sister was attacked in the first place.
And since such neurological conditions do run in families, maybe there is some additional contributing factor to account for the inappropriate measures taken by Ariana’s family to apply damage control. After all, the kids would probably have inherited whatever the problem actually was through one of their parents. One wonders whether Kendra or Percival might have had a sibling or an uncle locked up in the attic when they were growing up. The very kind of secrets and lies Kendra specialized in would certainly suggest that she may have grown up concealing something nasty in the family closet, herself. Something which in the 1890s would have been interpreted as insanity in the family.
Which, once it occurs to you, points out just how hopelessly inept Kendra’s actions appear to have been, in uprooting the family from Mould-on-the-Wold, where they were known, and had at least some degree of community support, and hauling them off to Godric’s Hollow, and, finally, attempting to conceal even her daughter’s existence.
From any practical point of view that was a stupid set of actions. It did not improve her daughter’s quality of life, and served only to isolate her sons.
People back in Mould-on-the-Wold remembered that Ariana existed, although no one remembered ever seeing the child do magic. Which isn’t all that surprising. Most wizarding children are raised within a considerable degree of isolation and probably do not know anyone outside their immediate families. And the Dumbledores don’t sound particularly gregarious. Mould-on-the-Wold may also be more in line with the Ottery St Catchpole model where the wizarding community lives out in the country some distance from both each other and their Muggle neighbors rather than that of Godric’s Hollow where wizards and Muggles appear to live all mixed in together.
Godric’s Hollow would appear to be the last place one would choose to take a child who it is necessary to sequester away from both Muggles and wizards.
Most people in Godric’s Hollow didn’t even know that Ariana existed until they brought her coffin out of the house for burial. I think Bathilda was the only one who ever caught a glimpse of her. And that was from peeking through yet another hedge.
But, knowing nothing of Kendra’s own background, we cannot overlook the possibility that she had uprooted her family from her husband’s part of the country and returned to what had been her own childhood home. Even though there appear to have been no remaining relatives of Kendra’s for the children to have interacted with.
• • • •
Added to which; regardless of whether or not Ariana’s underlying problem may have been something that she had been born with, if that attack did involve anything like a head trauma, that could have added a whole new layer of complexity to the situation.
A bump on the head is not necessarily a minor matter. Those can cause long-range neurological effects.
Like seizure disorders.
Y’know, I don’t even want to try to contemplate the possible result of magically generated (or enhanced) seizures.
• • • •
The question of just what happened to Ariana is unlikely to get any further explanation than what we already have. And I think that a final answer on that subject is likely to remain inconclusive.
In the matter of Albus and his youthful entanglement with Supremacist politics we have rather more to work from.
Mind you, the whole political picture of the ww is hopelessly bollixed by Rowling’s determination to claim that the political backdrop is whatever she wants it to be whenever she wants it to be, even if the various pictures are diametrically opposed to one another. I get the strong impression of a kid who likes to draw pictures of her characters, drawing them without any kind of background, because “that’s too hard” and she isn’t interested in the backgrounds. Thinking erroneously that she can say the background is whatever she feels like, to any specific picture without realizing that if the characters are all a part of one set, the backgrounds need to connect.
But the speed at which the Ministry was able to unilaterally disenfranchise a full quarter of the population without public outcry in the final volume of the series makes no sense whatsoever against the fact that we never got even the slightest hint that there was any legal impediment to Muggle-born participation in any level of wizarding society prior to about chapter 13 of DHs.
• • • •
For that matter, this far downstream of the closing of canon, it becomes easier to just throw up one’s hands at any attempt to “read” the issue of British wizarding politics, and just conclude that for Albus it was always all about the Hallows.
It wasn’t just Supremacist politics that Albus got a thorough trouncing over at the end of his first summer out of Hogwarts. He and Gellert had gone thoroughly, completely, and altogether Hallows-mad over the course of that summer, and all of their hot air and blue-sky pie over eventually ruling the world was subordinate to what they were going to do with themselves after first going off together adventuring to find the cursed things.
I think it wasn’t just Gellert’s vision of ruling the world that Albus ended up taking a strong aversion to, but to the Hallows also.
I rather think that after that summer, he veered off from anything to do with the Hallows until 1945 and Gellert turned one of them over to him.
After which he suffered a major relapse.
Still, it would probably be a bad idea to just completely dismiss the political reading of the situation. So I will attempt to make some kind of headway with it.
• • • •
As I have stated in the second of the ‘Wizards and Muggles: a Social History’ essays, there are at least three clearly identifiable factions duking it out across the political landscape of the wizarding world today. Each of which is likely to have its own internal splinter groups.
I think that Swythyv’s “Merlinists” (members of the Order of Merlin) must be something more like an elite Order than an actual political faction. They are probably as old as the Isolationists, in fact may be older if they claim that Merlin himself founded their Brotherhood. But since they are older, they went through their “transformation” process earlier. Their natural descendants are the current day Inclusionists. Much as it appears that the Supremacists are winning the hearts and minds of the descendants of the Isolationists. The Inclusionists are what the original Merlinists became. Merlin, after all, worked out in the open and held down a Muggle government office. Or what effectively was indistinguishable from such.
But being openly proud of being a wizard from a family of wizards doesn’t necessarily imply anything beyond a strong sense of family feeling, or a tendency to be rather full of yourself. For example: it is obvious that Arthur Weasley is the last wizard on earth to think Muggles only exist to be tormented by wizards, but there is no doubt in his mind whatsoever that he is superior to them.
Given the tacit Muggle-protective agenda built into the Order of Merlin (I am fully in agreement with Swythyv on this point), Isolationism is likely to have always been founded on an abandonment of that particular responsibility. Since I suspect the worst of the early Isolationists had very good reason to fear or distrust Muggles, their attitude towards Muggles would have been much in tune with Hermione’s comment that goblins don’t need to be protected. And families like the Blacks may well have been inordinately proud of their wizarding lineage long before they fell into the Isolationist mindset. (And later walked right into the Supremacist trap.)
But, traditional as they may well be, the purely Isolationist faction is a dying breed. They are being whittled away by attrition.
Which may go some way towards the vulnerability of their young to get swept up in the oh-so-similar rhetoric of the Supremacists. At this point in time, both factions show a very real bias in favor of purebloods (the Supremacists actually less than the Isolationists, clearly) and both are determined to demonize Muggle-borns. For the Isolationists, the Muggle-born appear to be a legitimate threat. For the Supremacists they are a handy scapegoat.
At some future point in time, to the Supremacists merely having magic at all will undoubtedly be enough. But right now, whipping up ¾ of the population against incomers will pay a greater dividend in pulling your following together. And will eliminate the sector of the population most likely to raise objections when the attention gets turned to subjugating the Muggle world outside.
Any remaining die-hard “original” Merlinist is a walking anachronism. Or a raging eccentric, much in the style of Xeno Lovegood. I do not know what “order” he identifies with in his quest for the Deathly Hallows, but it appears to be a part of a very old tradition.
The ruling branch of the Black family was another anachronism. Empty traditionalism is a good description of the Blacks. Very pure in their Isolationist rhetoric, and completely out of touch with the demands of the present day. Quite willing to blast anyone off the family tapestry who doesn’t toe the party line. But never stopping to think of what any of it actually means in the long run. Clearly the adoption of Isolationist rhetoric by Supremacists has flown under their radar. Members of the family have been taking up Supremacist causes for generations without reprisal from the Head of the family.
• • • •
The thing is, that wizards with Supremacist mindsets have certainly always been around, but they were more likely to be individual cases or very small groups before Seclusion was actually imposed. There must have always been the odd wizard here or there who thought that he had the right to rule everyone around him. But back then, apart from his own family or local area, the average wizard only knew about the wizards he had been at school with and that probably didn’t encourage anyone to try to influence all of them to organize a takeover.
Once Seclusion was established, however, wizards were living in closer proximity to each other and had a clearer idea of who other wizards were.
And the (up to DHs) current official Inclusionist policy of tying to soft-pedal the dangers that Muggles represent — in order to soothe and placate the Isolationists — has made it all too easy to hold Muggles in contempt. Maybe a bit more attention ought really to be turned to the fact that the (apparently) last word in wizarding historical analysis seems to have come from Bathilda Bagshott, whose own family produced one of the most notorious wizarding Supremacists in the last century. The Inclusionists have virtually encouraged the rise of the Supremacists with that policy.
And for their part, the Supremacists are not by any means yet what they will someday become. They are still a developing movement. Not an established one. They have yet to manage to legitimately put themselves fully in power. But they are not going to go away, and at some point they WILL legitimize themselves. And then there will be hell to pay.
And no one is doing anything to redirect this momentum. Grindelwald failed. I think that Supremacism went underground in eastern Europe by the end of WWII. Assuming that there even was a WWII in the Potterverse. There was a war in Eastern Europe, but we don’t know that it compared with our WWII. We only know of a couple of DEs with names that hail from that region, and only one of those had definite ties there. Voldemort failed, and Supremacism is likely to go underground in Britain for a generation or so. But it will be back and it would be a good idea if the rising generations by then were getting some version of history more balanced than Bagshott’s and that they are being taught by someone rather more qualified to bring it to life.
One wonders whether the history texts that preceded Bagshott’s were just as distorted and contemptuous of their human heritage. Those would have been the ones that Albus learned from.
Or maybe Albus also learned history from one of Bathilda’s earlier works. She was old enough to have written others.
• • • •
And while on the subject of Albus: he was, oh but definitely brought up an Inclusionist. They were holding the flag at the time, and Kendra was allegedly Muggle-born. I don’t recall off the top of my head if it was originally Bathilda or Muriel (or, hell, Rita) who volunteered the idea that she was Muggle-born and trying to deny it, but whoever it was was not paying her a compliment.
Albus got swept into an incipient Supremacist movement (via a personal attachment), right on the ground floor and was violently disabused from it before it actually got started. It all took no more than a couple of months. Even when Ariana died, on his side it was probably still nothing more than talk.
I think he just reverted to his original upbringing in the wake of that.
He got his nose throughly rubbed in the fact that the “greater good” he had been extrapolating with Gellert Grindelwald was not good, or, certainly not good for him. But I think that he never quite worked the issue through beyond point C to point D.
Once he realized that what he had wanted to do was wrong — and I’m not altogether sure he even did realize that, only that trying to do it with GG was a bad idea which would have never worked, he seems to have tried to climb up inside his head and never come out.
He lost his sister from getting mixed up with Gellert, and he effectively lost his brother as well, for a good many years. And, having had his confidence in his own judgment shaken, he backed off from ever really trying to accomplish anything — and excusing his abandonment of any kind of responsibility by telling himself that he wasn’t really fit to hold power, since he wanted it too much.
Yet any power he was given he clutched to himself, and never learned to delegate, or even to designate a successor. Nor does he seem to have ever realized that his aversion to making an open bid for temporal power, did not mean that he had relinquished his ultima thule of there being a “greater good”. He merely redefined it as the “status quo” of his childhood. Albus’s inclusionary policies, I now think were not radical in the least. They were no more than the straightforward textbook definition of the openly stated Ministry policy, circa about 1900.
• • • •
He did realize that what he had been so smug about being qualified to do at 17 — i.e., to dictate how everyone else ought to live their lives — was false reasoning, that he wasn’t qualified to guide the masses for their own good. But he seems to have taken that realization as an excuse to opt out of the whole business of ever really connecting with anybody, or trying to make anything better for anyone.
And as he grew older, and people kept cumulatively handing him offices of authority, he showed no hesitation in laying down the law as to how people were to conduct themselves ..
The biggest mystery in the series now seems to be why he ever bothered to put himself out on little Remus Lupin’s account in ’71. Even though his security measures were grossly inadequate to the dangers inherent in the situation. Post-DHs the “experiment” certainly doesn’t seem at all in character. (One now wonders whether the Lupins were friends of Flamel’s, or at least known to him. I am in agreement with Swythyv that Flamel was probably one of the few people that could have convinced Albus to do anything he didn’t initially want to.)
Tom Riddle deliberately mutilated his own soul in pursuit of a false agenda. Albus seems to have been determined to deny he had a heart. In the end, he was as clueless about how to treat people as Severus Snape seems to have been. He made a total fool of himself and he does not appear to have ever realized it. Not even when we finally met him in the purgatory of Harry’s virtual King’s Cross Station. (Which I don’t think Albus is ever going to be able to leave, and he will probably be spending the rest of time there with the wailing remnant of Tom Riddle.)
• • • •
So. The Ministry must have been in a particularly progressive and Muggle-protective cycle back around the turn of the 20th century. Once we realize that Albus was never a visionary pioneer in wizard/Muggle relations, it becomes obvious that he has to have picked his stated views up somewhere. It seems likely that after he realized he had been conspiring with a kid who had Napoleonic ambitions (remember to fold Gellert’s newspaper hat into a bicorn shape), he simply backpedaled and adopted the views under which he had been raised.
Yet even when he had fallen under the influence of a charming boy with a Supremacist agenda he couldn’t help but give the whole rhetoric an Inclusionist spin. “The Greater Good” is a very traditional justification for that kind of thing. Kipling was a little less vague in his terminology. He came right out and called it the “White Man’s Burden”. Oh, the responsibilities of the poor European! Forced, just positively forced, to rule those ignorant natives in less developed parts of the world, for their own good!
It’s pure Colonialism, in all of it’s self-interested, and self-absorbed glory.
And once you consider the date we are talking about, the summer of 1899, one can hardly wonder at it, can one? Even if Albus had been raised by Muggles he’d probably have spun it in exactly the same direction he did in order to make it sound palatable.
And some time later, by the time he decided to start putting it into action, Gellert remembered that. And when he did start his rise he used it. Albus was his best buddy for all of about 2 months when they were 16 and 17 respectively, and they never saw each other again until 1945, but Gellert incorporated Albus’s spin on his goals for his public statements. Albus had unwittingly facilitated Grindelwald’s rise to power. Small wonder he was so ashamed. (“If you can bear to hear the UNtruths you’ve spoken/twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools...”)
But yes, to whichever of my correspondents pointed it out (probably Swythyv), Albus Dumbledore has been a lot more familiar with both of the most recent scenery-chewers than is altogether appropriate.
And his own past history with both of them probably paralyzed him to the point that he refused to take any responsibility for what was happening. Both times. He may have a public reputation for supporting second chances. But Tom Riddle was his second chance, and he bungled it.
• • • •
What seems to have sent the balloon up in 1899, was Gellert throwing Crucio at Aberforth. Aberforth had raised a major stink about their plan to haul Ariana out of the home she was used to and to pack her off, willy-nilly across Europe, while Albus and Gellert became Masters of the Universe.
The Crutiatus didn’t last long, Albus managed to put a stop to it, but the confrontation then turned into a 3-way magical brawl. Ariana tried to “help” her favorite brother, ’Forth. Neither Albus, Gellert or Aberforth knew which of their spells hit her.
(If any of them did. With the Obscural card now in play, her own magic may have just blown her up. Conveniently letting all three of the boys off the hook.)
One first supposes that whatever curses were being thrown were potentially fatal if no one knew who actually killed Ariana. Unless something simply knocked her down and she died of that, which is certainly possible.
Even Gellert may have only been throwing Expelliarmus at her. Or something similar, since he knew she didn’t own a wand (unless she had picked up Aberforth’s). Although in the heat of the moment, and under magical attack, none of the participants may have been thinking clearly. But Expelliarmus is a useful and fairly common first reaction. What appears to be likely is that even Gellert didn’t intend to kill her.
Gellert ran home to his aunt Batty, in deep distress, and begged to go home. She had arranged for a portkey and he’d made his escape before any questions could be asked. And Albus wasn’t about to speak to anyone of what had really happened. Nor was Aberforth.
• • • •
The main problem with Albus isn’t that he was ever willfully evil, it’s that he didn’t really know how to deal with people except within a fairly narrow range of behaviors.
Despite the character assassination to which he was subjected over the course of DHs, I still don’t think that Albus qualifies as “intelligent evil”, although he certainly did enough harm for some people to come to that conclusion. He was just throughly wrongheaded in his intentions to do well. For he did intend to do well. But he sure didn’t seem to recognize what “doing well” is actually composed of.
He understood being admired for his wits and he felt he honestly deserved any acclaim he won by them, and he probably was not wrong — as far as that goes.
He had a vague understanding that the whole family was responsible for Ariana’s welfare, but Kendra had probably never enlisted Albus to help with Ariana. Aberforth had already volunteered for that duty. Which left Albus isolated and alone outside the little secret circle of three, even though he did know what it was about.
Unfortunately, Kendra died when Albus was barely finished with school. If Aberforth was 3 years behind Albus, he would have only just finished 4th year. He had not yet sat his OWLs and was not qualified for anything within their world. It is small wonder that someone who lived inside his head the way Albus did would not hear of Aberforth leaving school to take care of their sister, once he was titularly in charge of the family. Regardless of how lame his own notions of what the proper way of dealing with the situation might have been.
Despite being the one to contribute the concept of “The Greater Good” spin to a Supremacist movement, Albus was not the driver of Gellert’s budding Supremacist rising. He was already out of the loop by then, and he was in essence, a dupe. His awakening although violent and quick, would have been on the menu soon enough in any case, quite possibly before Gellert actually started driving his bid for power anyway. I tend to doubt that Albus would have willingly been a party to burglarizing Gregorovitch’s workroom and stealing the Elder Wand.
There has been a lot of foofaraugh across the internet over Rowling’s posthumous “outing” of Albus Dumbledore as being gay, and her statement that he had in fact fallen into a violent infatuation with Gellert Grindelwald, but while this information certainly adds to the overall poignancy of the whole unhappy situation, it adds comparatively little to the narrative as it stands in the book. True, knowing the proper context of that particular overheated friendship, is of some value, but there is no reason to explore the matter further. The primary damage is not so much that he fancied himself in love with Gellert Grindelwald, but that he didn’t realize that just because his friend was unquestionably bright, that he necessarily had a proper way of thinking.
One doesn’t get the impression that Albus recognized the existence of any similar minds to his own at Hogwarts. There may really not have been any. Consequently his whole experience of people outside his family circle were dim-bulb sycophants like Doge, or the eminent experts that he was in correspondence with. Who, however much they might regard him as brilliant or clever would naturally have regarded him as an untried youngster.
Gellert was the first clever clogs he had ever met who was his own age. And Gellert (who seems to have been every bit as handsome, reckless, and charismatic as Sirius Black — which when one stops and considers it, might have had some impact on Albus’s willingness to believe Black to have betrayed the Potters) knew how to play the situation. Plus, they were both of them obsessed with the legend of the Deathly Hallows. Gellert tossed Albus an “idea” bone of what they would do with them if they had them, and Albus was after it like a puppy. I doubt the whole business of ruling the world for the “greater good” was ever altogether real to Albus. He was just sitting back with his wonderful new friend bullshitting, spinning theories and exploring bright gaudy possibilities exactly the same way all of us online are. He didn’t realize that for Gellert it all was real, and that he intended to go out and do it.
Even the plan to drag Ariana across Europe, to Albus, was probably no more than a chance to finally take his delayed Grand Tour.
With a lovely side dish of going a-questing after the Deathly Hallows.
• • • •
Grindelwald’s actions and motives are more of a puzzle. Although not the ones he was propounding at 16, certainly. There was not much to choose between Gellert at 16 and, say, Lucius Malfoy. Or any of the other high-functioning DEs.
But we don’t actually get told anything about that final face-off between him and Albus until we meet Albus in King’s Cross. And Albus tells us there only that he won their duel. (Which one suspects Flamel, and probably the ICW, had shamed Albus into undertaking.)
Well, Albus was a very able wizard. But you would think that a rising Dark Lord with an invincible wand would be rather harder than that to defeat. If, that is, he decided to actually fight you.
I really rather suspect that if we had had access to the whole content of Rita Skeeter’s unauthorized biography of Albus, Rowling’s October 2007, announcements at Carnegie Hall wouldn’t have come as any sort of a surprise. Conjured a white handkerchief and came quietly? Perhaps..
And while we are on the subject, it took the WW five years to convince Albus to undertake that meeting. How on earth is that supposed to fit into the picture of a global war that Rowling insists that Grindelwald’s rising was? What on earth is Rowling thinking? That the whole WW and all the combined Ministries of Europe were united in begging one High School teacher to come and solve their Dark Lord problem for them?
I have stated in several places across this collection that Rowling’s sketch of the Grindelwald “war” is as leaky as a sieve.
A “global” war, such as she has claimed that it was, is simply not resolved in a single one-on-one duel. The whole “Dark Lord Grindelwald” thread is another piece of underdeveloped nonsense from Rowling.
He allegedly raised a following, murdered people all across Eastern Europe, and built a prison for his enemies, and the Muggles of Europe didn’t even notice?
And the wizards of Britain sighed, averted their eyes, and decided that it simply wasn’t their problem? (A global war, except of course for Britain, evidently. Right.)
And just when is Albus supposed to have gone off to fight Gellert? Easter break? Or did he get to wait until summer after the Muggle war (assuming there was one) was already over? He was still holding down a day job in 1945, after all.
If we absolutely have to have some form of a Dark uprising headed by Gellert Grindelwald, what I suspect is that Gellert either had already overreached himself, or was on the brink of doing so.
For that matter, what I REALLY think is that Grindelwald’s whole movement was probably a shambles by then, his supporters had abandoned him, and that it was only the fact that he was the current holder of the Deathstick that had kept himself from capture.
That’s how Albus could justify his refusal to answer the call. That by that time Gellert was only one wizard, and that someone else could be the one to face him.
And did Gellert legitimately lose that duel, or did the wand turn against him? It’s been observed to do that, you know. Chooses its owner in the middle of a duel, that is. Or, was it just that now the Muggle war was winding down, had Gellert realized that he had painted himself into a corner and getting clapped up in his own prison was the best of his options?
• • • •
And then, there is the question of his Mark. Gellert was familiar with the sigil of the Deathly Hallows — which has been known for centuries — well before he was thrown out of Durmstrang. So we know that it already had significance to him before he ever set foot in Britain. Indeed, the Hallows were their initial common ground and the basis of his and Albus’s folie a deux.
We do not know just when Gellert first heard the rumors spread by Gregorovitch, that he had acquired the Elder Wand. But it was soon enough after he ran away from the Dumbledores that he was still visibly young when he stole it. We do not know exactly when he launched his bid for power, either. But when he did, he adopted the sigil of the Deathly Hallows as his personal Mark. Which could have been in the nature of a boast to those who recognized it. And there would have been a lot of wizards who did.
But, at 17, Albus had also been using that mark. He had used it to substitute the ‘A’ of his own name in his correspondence with Gellert.
For that matter, was the reason that the WW was all united in insisting that Albus Dumbledore should be the one to face Grindelwald for five whole years, possibly because Grindelwald had already stated that they would take him in if, and only if, Albus Dumbledore was the one to do it?
And was Grindelwald’s bid for power over the course of some 30–40 years never extended to Britain solely on his great-aunt Bathilda’s account?
I’m not sure, but to me that doesn’t necessarily add up to “unrequited”.
• • • •
Albus’s Order of Merlin was almost certainly in recognition of having taken Grindelwald into custody. Some of his research might have merited it, but that really does seem to be the most likely achievement to have been awarded it.
He’d been so gun-shy after the Ariana debacle that he doesn’t seem to have been willing to poke his nose outside a research lab or a classroom afterwards. Both of those being environments in which he knew he was fully in control.
I am wondering now, whether the whole PS/SS maneuver with the Philosopher’s Stone wasn’t Flamel’s from the get-go. And Albus inherited the whole mission of trying to get Tom under control from him (and made a botch of that one, too)..
His founding the OotP in the first place now also seems uncharacteristic for a wizard who seems to have been all too willing to sit on his rump and do nothing so long as no one challenged him on his own turf. I am more and more convinced that he only did it after having to listen to Alastor Moody grousing about obstructionism in The Ministry one time too many.
Either that, or Flamel gave him a nudge. Or Tom was stupid enough to do it, either when the Prophecy escaped or earlier. That’s the best I can come up with. Rowlng certainly doesn’t appear to have thought the matter out very clearly. The Albus she presents in DHs would have done nothing of the kind. Too much like taking responsibility for other people’s welfare, y’know?
And, yes, I do think Albus eventually felt some degree of affection for Harry, after the PS/SS debacle, although the emotion seems to have been primarily composed of sentiment, rather than real emotion (probably not a great deal of affection, either, although to him it would have seemed as if it was. He really does seem to have been emotionally stunted). But, no, it really didn’t change the way he operated at all.
Albus did save Harry’s butt at least twice before the Ministry rescue, however. That’s something Albus doesn’t seem to have done for much of anyone else.
First he got Harry away from QuirrellMort after Harry had passed out, and then he blew away Crouch/Moody who was about to curse him. Sure, he was protecting his investment, but Harry didn’t know that, and would certainly have seen no reason to take it as anything but a reason to trust Albus.
There was also his slowing Harry’s fall back in PoA when the Dementors swarmed the Quidditch pitch. That counts too.
But I can’t off the top of my head think of anyone else Albus has ever been shown to have actively saved. Even if he did get Mundungus out of a tight spot once. (Probably more than once, considering Mundungus.)
He enabled Harry and Hermione to save Sirius and Buckbeak, but if I am right about his having seen Harry cast that Patronus by the lake from his window earlier in the evening, he must have known that the boy had already done so.
He made a half-arsed effort to see that Lupin was educated as a wizard. But he never did that for any other juvenile victim of lycanthropy. And we still don’t know why he went to the trouble in Lupin’s case (except probably to give PoA a backstory).
And, yes, one does have to admit that he did get Hagrid that job as assistant to the old groundskeeper Ogg. Not that it took a lot of effort on his part. The school and the Ministry couldn’t leave an orphaned half-Giant wandering Britain at large, confiding in anyone who was kind to him. Much better to keep him under observation at Hogwarts away from where any Muggles would see him. And besides, groundskeeper is a job he could do, and would probably enjoy.
But the best Albus was willing to do for either James OR Sirius was just to tell them to stay inside where they were safe, and I no longer believe that he was ever the Head of any Hogwarts House.
In fact, given the acclaim he seems to have been basking in since his teens, if he had ever been a Head of any House the alumni would still be dining out on the strength of it. And we can also see now that he did not ever want that kind of responsibility. He’d failed at it by the age of 18, and never wanted to be stuck having to take that risk again.
• • • •
He’s nowhere near as hard a case as Tom Riddle. He wasn’t altogether heartless, and he was capable of affection. Or at any rate, he recognized affection in others, sometimes, if it fitted his preconceptions of it. He may have envied it, and he never devalued it.
But he had walled himself off from it. After all, it hurt. He protected himself from such uncomfortable feelings, much in the way many fans seem to have attributed to Snape. (Who, by contrast, really never did that, Snape simply wasn’t offered affection. Approval occasionally, but never affection.)
Which may be the crux of the matter. People have trusted or admired Albus over a great many years. But I think that Harry may have been the only one to simply love him. And Albus had spent far too long trying to live without any kind of love at all.
And, really, Harry had been left with very few people to love, and you really do have to admit that, on an emotional level, Albus’s debriefing when he confronted Harry in front of the Mirror of Erised was one of the very few things in a long life that Albus got exactly right.
Albus and Tom, oh but definitely, recognized one another as similar breeds of monster in that orphanage. And frightening Tom with a burning wardrobe ended up as a gauntlet thrown down between them.
And I still am convinced that Albus himself was a Ravenclaw. His failures are such typical Ravenclaw failures and you would think that there would be at least some remark made upon the fact that so many academic awards, prizes and acclaims were being garnered by anyone in either Gryffindor OR Slytherin. In Ravenclaw, Albus would have merely exceeded everyone’s expectations, in a matter of degree rather than type. And Ravenclaws have no objection to grasping at power, after all.
Aberforth was in Gryffindor, however. Rather obviously.
And probably Percival as well, considering.
One doesn’t really know about Kendra..
• • • •
Which brings us finally to Bathilda Bagshott.
The puzzle behind door #3
Frankly I haven’t a clue of what the Bagshott complication actually was. But the story turns into a complete mess any time she shows up in it.
She certainly wasn’t initially a friend of the family. Kendra wouldn’t let her set foot across the property line. And she seems to have spied on them through the hedge.
And yet she was engaged in a correspondence with Albus while he was at Hogwarts, i.e., over the same period of time.
One wonders whether this wasn’t a screw-up on Albus’s part (an understandable one given his cluelessness). That he had not quite realized that engaging in a correspondence with someone who lived in the same village in which his own family had settled might be construed as an invitation for the woman to come sniffing around the family home. In any case she seems to have managed to get her foot in the door by the time of Kendra’s death.
And then there is the matter of what she had to say about the family. It really doesn’t sound all that friendly. It is from Bathilda that we have the story of the child imprisoned in the house and hidden from the world. Although she seems later to have later been convinced by the family’s insistence that the girl was “frail”.
Muriel overheard a conversation between Bathilda and her own mother about Bathilda having caught a glimpse of Kendra and Ariana and concluded that the girl was a Squib.
It was also from the Weasley’s Aunt Muriel that we get the information that Ariana had never been seen by any of the Healers at St Mungos. We do not know just where the tale that Kendra was Muggle-born and trying to deny it came from. But that tale is not exactly friendly, either.
HOWEVER: according to Rita Skeeter, we are left with the impression that Bathilda continued in the understanding that the Dumbledore girl was a Squib, even when Rita spoke with her when Bathilda was ancient and ga-ga, nearly a century after the whole tragedy had concluded.
Or was this just the spin that Rita chose to put on the matter?
Excuse me? Gellert Grindelwald was Bathilda’s great-nephew. He was Albus’s new best friend forever. In fact she is the one who probably introduced them since Gellert had already been expelled from Durmstrang and had been packed off to live with his aunt in Britain by the time Albus came home to arrange for his mother’s funeral.
And yet somehow Gellert’s aunt, with whom he was living, never learned that the girl was a witch, unable to control her magic, and needed to be kept in seclusion for her own safety? Bathilda had no problem telling Rita about how the two boys had struck up that extraordinarily intimate friendship after Kendra’s death and before Ariana’s. That could certainly have been of not that much greater interest than the poor little witch who had to be handled with kid gloves. After all, Gellert had obviously been welcomed into the Dumbledore’s home by Albus and knew all about it. Aberforth found him there by the time he got home from Hogwarts.
She also never wondered whether the timing of her nephew’s sudden disappearance and Ariana’s death might be a bit of a coincidence?
That seems remarkably incurious coming from a celebrated historian.
So was Bathilda essentially just a nosy neighbor that Kendra avoided? Given the circumstances of his sister’s death, Albus might have been just as likely to have energetically avoided the old bat afterwards. But, no, Elphias Doge claims she was a lifelong friend of Albus’s.
And, yet, there she was, having tea with the Potters while they were in hiding (although not yet under Fidelius). Blabbing away about Albus and Gellert’s friendship some 80 years earlier. Excuse me?
Was Bathilda actually a member of the Order of the Phoenix?
Why? Of what possible use would Bathilda, whose discretion appears to have been on much the same level as Hagrid’s have been to the Order? Or was she just keeping an eye on things with the Potters as Mrs Figg was later to do for Harry?
• • • •
But, as I say, I am unconvinced that we really know all of what was relevant to the “official” Dumbledore backstory, and despite Rowling’s delayed bombshells related to this matter, it is difficult to see what relevance any of it ever had to the problem of Tom Riddle.
Although it does, perhaps, shed some light on the extreme reluctance that Albus appears to have had to over doing anything about that problem.