Which brings us up to the night of the main event. And its prelude:
The Adventure of the Dark Lord’s Sea Cave.
That expedition can’t have been altogether irrelevant, either, you know.
I suspect it was an intrinsic part of the staging of Dumbledore’s exit.
It was Act Three, Scene Two, in fact.
However, once again, we need to back up a bit. We’ve yet another collection of minor curiosities to sort out first. Mostly regarding the Room of Requirement.
Which is to say, Act Three, Scene One.
• • • •
Harry Potter was unable to find or to enter the unknowable, unplottable Room of Hidden Things when Malfoy needed it to be inaccessible. Whenever Malfoy was in residence it was literally off the map.
We do not know what limits on access to the Room applied to Albus. (Or, for that matter, to Trelawney, or the rest of the staff.)
The stair to Albus’s office is around on the other side of the castle from the Room of Requirement, as Harry pointed out to Tonks when she encountered him near the RoR one evening, claiming to be looking for Dumbledore. (Although since you evidently have to go past the RoR to get from the main stairway to the Headmaster’s stair I don’t know why Harry felt he had to inform her of the fact. She had been educated at Hogwarts, too.)
But Dumbledore’s private quarters are evidently near enough to the Room that he had managed to blunder into it one night, looking for the loo. Or at least so he claimed. At this point, I’m inclined to chalk that claim down to being another of Albus’s “likely stories”.
And if you were in a position of stewardship to that castle, and you know that the castle contains a room which is so ripe for misuse, if not downright disaster, wouldn’t you have set up some form of surveillance on it? Or IN it. Indeed, mightn’t you inherit some form of surveillance on it? At the very least, the tapestry opposite the door might stand duty as a sentry to inform you of when someone enters it.
No, I really don’t think that we can accept Tom Riddle’s assumption that Albus was too law-abiding to know about that Room.
• • • •
So let’s take another look at what we know about the timetable for the relevant evening.
Act Three, Scene One
Just before curfew, which, since we are approaching the summer solstice, is around sunset, Harry was summoned by Dumbledore to come to his office at once. Hurrying along the 7th floor corridor, he hears a shriek and a crash and rounds the corner to find Trelawney sprawled on the floor with her sherry bottles. She engages him with an account of having walked into the Room of Hidden Things to hear someone start whooping in celebration, piles on a querulous complaint about being afflicted by sudden darkness and rudely ejected from the room, she then maunders on about her inner eye and the Lightning-Struck Tower, and finishes up (no doubt thanks to free-association) with her account of the night Albus hired her and Snape had been ejected from the Hog’s Head. We do not know how long she delayed Harry, but it was at least a couple of minutes. Whoever was in the room is still in there.
Harry manages to get rid of her, and continues to Albus’s office in response to his summons.
Harry finds Albus on the point of departure. They discuss Malfoy celebrating in the Room of Requirement, Trelawney’s story of Snape having fitted up Harry’s parents by telling Voldemort of the Prophecy, and once again raise the question of whose side Snape is on, anyway. Albus repeats the “likely story” of Snape’s remorse and his own forgiveness back in 1981. He clearly considers telling Harry something more, but resists the temptation. Malfoy, meanwhile probably sneaks out of the Room and returns to Slytherin House.
Dumbledore invites Harry to accompany him on a raid for one of the Horcruxes. Makes him promise to obey orders. Then, curiously, he sends Harry off to “get his cloak”.
What Harry (who is already carrying his cloak — on Dumbledore’s recommendation from earlier in the year) actually does is to alert his friends, give them the rest of his “lucky potion” and urge them to patrol. He and Dumbledore meet in the entrance hall and depart for Hogsmeade.
Dumbledore tells Harry he has already left arrangements for extra security measures during his absence. In fact, the castle is already being patrolled by both staff and Order members. Now Harry’s friends have joined the party.
The patrols contain more Order members than staff apparently. The only one of Albus’s patrol we don’t already know to be an Order member is Flitwick. And maybe even he was by that time, although no one ever told us so, and it doesn’t seem all that likely. Or relevant, either. Snape, however, is not included in these orders. He presumably remains in his own quarters, away from all sources of information. But although it is now after curfew, he does not prepare for bed.
Indeed, when Albus sends Harry off to “get his cloak”, it is despite the fact that he should already perfectly aware that he had already instructed Harry to keep the cloak with him at all times at the beginning of the year, and has no reason to believe that Harry has failed to do so. This is our first clear instance over the course of the evening where Harry has been distracted or deliberately been got out of the way for a critical few minutes. It is not the last one, either.
• • • •
Regarding Albus’s somewhat curious behavior over the rest of the evening; what I currently am most inclined to suspect is that, from this point, in Albus we are getting an outside view of what Harry’s behavior must have looked like to Ron and Hermione the night he was under the influence of the Felix Felicis potion.
We know that Slughorn had a batch of Felix with him when he showed up at the beginning of the year. The bottle of it that he awarded Harry only held one ounce of the stuff. What happened to the rest of it?
For that matter, once we discovered that the stuff takes six months to brew, we realize that Slughorn must have started that batch no later than the previous Spring — during the period he was allegedly squatting a week at a time in vacant Muggle houses. And Sluggy tells us that the stuff is fiendishly tricky to brew and disastrous to get wrong. Consequently, we have a gap in our information here. I suspected that there was more to Albus and Horace’s association than we’d been told.
I even went so far as to say that I thought that Albus commissioned that batch of Felix Felicis from Slughorn, and we hadn’t seen the last of it. For that matter, if heading out of the castle on the night you and your confederates intend to capture a Horcrux and stage your own murder doesn’t constitute an appropriate opportunity to maximize your luck, I don’t know what does.
It has been noted by a number of people that Albus seemed to be “feeling his way” through the whole sea cave adventure. I’d have to admit that the reading that he was watching the possibilities unfold and waiting for Felix to point out the best one certainly works for me.
But I’ve been wrong about any number of things before this, and I may be wrong about this as well.
• • • •
If, as I believe, Albus has been monitoring Malfoy’s progress with the cabinet all year, once Malfoy was reported as having entered the Room after Albus had repaired the cabinet for him, he took his dose of Felix and sent for Harry.
While waiting, he alerted the Staff, called in the Order members and set up the additional protections on the perimeter. He probably also gave Snape a heads-up that tonight’s the night, as well as alerting his other partners (if any) in the conspiracy.
For that matter: insofar as the cabinet is concerned, how do we know that some form of surveillance was not already at the other end of the connection, in Borgin & Burkes, as well? I suspect that Dumbledore might have had some kind of dealings with old Caractacus Burke — after Burke’s trusted assistant Riddle proved to be a thief and, it was suspected, a murderer. I don’t get the impression that Borgin would refuse an offer of protection from the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot at the price of allowing a spy eye of some sort to be installed in the shop. Not with the kind of hell that has been breaking loose in the ww all that year.
• • • •
And while we are at it: how did Trelawney get into the Room, when, after weeks of attempts, Harry never managed it? Did she have the fools’ luck to blunder in during the few minutes that Malfoy wasn’t there? When he was off in London testing the cabinet? He has to have briefly left the Room to do that. He’d hardly be whooping in celebration until he knew for sure that it was fixed.
I also suspect that Albus had already realized that he needed a good excuse to haul Harry out of the castle when the planned invasion was ready to go off. He had finally learned that lesson the year before. If Potter was left at liberty in the castle during Malfoy’s invasion, he could be depended upon to mess with it, and that would be likely to prove fatal for somebody other than just Albus. The invasion and the staged murder was much too delicate a balancing act to risk Potter cluelessly mixing into it. Taking the boy out of the castle to hunt a Horcrux while the rest of the cast assembled, would be a much safer option. They might even manage to get one more of the accursed things settled before Albus made his exit, and that would leave the boy with only three to find and neutralize.
You will also notice that just about everything Albus did that evening was calculated to keep Harry from getting actively involved in the evening’s main event, i.e., his own publicly-staged murder.
• • • •
Dumbledore next makes a point of being seen (apparently alone, Harry is under his cloak on Dumbledore’s orders) in Hogsmeade by Madam Rosemerta, before he and Harry Apparate to the coast. Malfoy is unlikely to set his trap until he knows that Albus is out of the castle. So Albus has just ensured that Malfoy will believe the way is fortuitously clear, and will initiate the invasion, before the DEs have the time to formulate any better plans than whatever group they can throw together on the spur of the moment. (Perhaps we need to consider the implications that they were able to muster as large a group as they did on as short a notice as they got.)
Malfoy passes the word by some as yet unknown means to one of his confederates outside the castle (not Madam Rosemerta, I think. Not for this) and the invasion team is called up on something like an hour’s notice. (ETA: if it’s possible for DEs to zap call each other through their marks we might finally have a convincing reason for why Malfoy might actually have one. However, from what we got in DHs the mark only conveys the signal to Tom — although other DEs in the vicinity will also feel the message go out. Nevertheless, if Malfoy is marked, using his mark to noify Tom that the way is clear would also be readily explained.)
While we are on the subject: just in case there’s anyone reading who hasn’t read the first of this pair of essays, can you say, for certain, that Albus hadn’t already figured out Madam Rosemerta’s coerced involvement in Malfoy’s plotting? I really, really doubt it.
I suspect that he had figured that much out at least by the time he heard about the bottle of poisoned mead, and probably quite soon after the attack on Katie Bell. His pretending to only realize it during the conversation with Malfoy was intended to pass that information to Harry, thereby tying off a loose end, and ensuring that the situation would be rectified after he was gone. Had Harry not been available to serve as message-bearer, some other means would undoubtedly have been found.
And now we get the trip into the cave itself.
• • • •
Albus’s statements and much of his behavior are calculated to give us the impression that he had never been in the cave himself, although he clearly already knows the Inferi are stashed there. In fact, he knows a suspiciously large amount about what he and Harry found in that cave for a man who allegedly has never been there before.
I really suspect that he had been there before. Once, at least, and perhaps quite recently.
On John Granger’s Hogwarts Professor’s discussion forums (in an iteration that is now no longer online — or not in its original version) the question was once posted as to how Dumbledore learned of the cave in the first place.
Along with several other fans, I believed that Albus “found” that cave in his own memories. He told us all the way back in GoF that he was in the habit of off-loading and re-examining memories in a Pensieve, which made it easier to organize what he knew.
When he reviewed his own memory of delivering Tom Riddle’s Hogwarts letter before sharing it with Harry, Mrs Cole’s account of the two children who went off into a cave with Riddle at the seaside and never were the same afterwards set off all sorts of warning bells. I think he spent the next several weeks determining just what part of the seacoast that orphanage had taken the children to for their summer outings back in the late 1930s, and had been investigating the surrounding cliffs. Not all solutions to wizards’ problems are to be found in the wizarding world, after all.
In the wake of DHs, we can now also suspect that he may have got a glimpse of the cave — and the Inferi in it — and possibly the fountain as well, in the course of questioning Kreachur after Sirius Black’s death. He does admit to having used Legilimency with Kreachur to discover the causes for the debacle at the DoM.
The Locket may not have still been in the house by the time he was questioning Kreachur, however. Mundungus might have already lifted it. And, for the matter, Albus tells Harry that he does not know *which* Horcrux they are likely to be finding in that cave.
It seems very likely that he caught a glimpse of the cave in his questioning regarding Kreachur’s Master. I would guess that House Elves are perfectly capable of free-association. But other than that glimpse, which would have been suggestive, I doubt that Albus got much more useful information from Kreachur.
And he may have been trying to find out where he place was since the previous June. If so, he either did not do as fine a job of Legilimency as he thought he had, or Kreachur had managed somehow to feint him into pursuing the false locket rather than searching his own nest.
• • • •
We already know that Riddle likes to revisit the scenes of his earlier triumphs. Albus knows this too. And terrorizing two of the other children to the point of causing them permanent damage is something Riddle would have certainly accounted a triumph. Riddle also has a habit of acquiring such properties if he can. I am quite sure that he himself is the “absent, rich” owner of the Riddle house. And he probably owns the old Gaunt property as well, even if only by means of fiddling the land records in his uncle Morfin’s absence. He has certainly taken possession of that cave.
I rather think that he brought the two other orphans there to the antechamber, and then possibly immobilized them, and sat watching while he taunted them, and then left as the tide came in. Their own panic managed to override his control, and they managed to escape. But he kept them from telling anyone exactly what he had done. I doubt that as a child of 10 or less, he had managed to get any further into the cave complex.
For my own part, I am convinced that the inner chamber of that cave, the lake, and the fountain are all far older than Riddle, although Riddle may have tampered with any of them. I also think that when Riddle returned to the cave as an adult, and a trained wizard, he realized, as Albus did, that the place had “known magic” And searched until he found the entrance.
When Albus got there some fifty years later the same principle still applied. That cave has been magical for a long, long time.
Although, now that we can be reasonably sure that Tom only hid the Locket in that cave around 1980, there may have been much more recent magical traces for Albus to be aware of.
Actually now that we come right down to it, I think that some of Albus’s behavior on our trip to that cave with Harry must have also been performance art. He had already gotten into that cave once before. Kreachur, notwithstanding, that’s how he knew about the blood-price door, as well as Inferi. And he obviously already knew about the Inferi. I don’t think it was just through having got a glimpse of them via Kreachur.
He also obviously knew about the fountain, although he probably hadn’t made any serious attempt to drain it on his first trip. He may have just run some diagnostics on the problem.
He evidently decided that getting whatever was hidden in the fountain out of it would make a nice project in which to involve Harry. Since he knew he needed such a project.
• • • •
So. Just what is the potion in the Birdbath of Doom, anyway?
Well; it’s green.
And it glows.
And it sounds altogether nasty.
— And if what we all witnessed there was another piece of “performance art”, we haven’t a clue as to what it actually does.
Apart from keeping anyone from touching it, that is. Or getting at anything that may be in the basin with it. We do not know whether it works the way the maybe-barrier charm allegedly cast on the staircase does and only keeps out persons who are not wearing a Dark mark. But it is far more likely that it was designed to keep out everybody. I wondered whether Tom himself may have had some handy way of getting past it, but downstream of DHs that doesn’t seem to be the case. All he needed to do was turn it transparent to see that the Horcrux was missing.
And we can’t necessarily believe a word of what Albus told us about it, either. Particularly when even what he did tell us was presented as a lot of gosh-and-guesswork.
I’m not convinced that Dumbledore wasn’t speculating completely without evidence on the potion’s effects. Mostly to play down the risk, so Harry would follow through on his orders. I would certainly not take the accuracy of any his statements regarding the potion for granted. He couldn’t really know (although if he does suspect that Kreachur was forced to drink it, Kreachur at least survived the experience). He suspected that the drinker wouldn’t be able to drain the basin on their own initiative, and he was pretty sure that the drinker wouldn’t immediately drop down dead. But that is about all he could really count on. Even Felix couldn’t show him much more than that. Although it might have convinced him that the potion wouldn’t kill him outright.
Of course depending upon just when the Horcrux was supposedly put into the cave there is the off-chance that Snape might have been able to fill him in on that potion. But we can’t count on that, either. The potion may have been a feature of that cave decades before the Horcrux was. Although it might be hard to account for why. And Rowling, at least, doesn’t seem to think so.
Dumbledore no doubt had sufficient reason to suspect that the potion wouldn’t kill him instantly (or possibly at all, although it might make him pretty sick). But, yes, I do think he may have been spinning theories to order to try to put Harry at his ease and make the task more doable, even if not easy, in order to force Harry to go on feeding him the potion, despite its effects.
Or it’s apparent effects. It could have been acting. Or at least exaggeration.
• • • •
Of course, one rather ugly suggestion is that the green potion may be an intrinsic part of what creates Inferi. This theory, fortunately, appears to be rather less likely in the wake of DHs.
But the way that everything on that island is set up, the potion seems to be calibrated to be vile enough to prevent anyone from finishing it off AND to drive its drinker to the lake for water. Plus, no other water source seems to be permitted on that island.
Unless Albus was being twisty and vanishing the water Harry summoned himself. But I doubt it. I don’t think he would have done anything that would lead Harry to mess with the lake.
Touching the water of the lake clearly signals the Inferi to drag you under and drown you. (*ahem* Haven’t we — and Harry — learned about something called the bubble-head charm? Everyone was using it in OotP to fend off the stink of dungbombs.)
If you haven’t drunk the potion you will simply be dead. If you have, there may be one more Inferus floating in the lake. Maybe. Nothing like for certain.
But, in any case, one would have to say that the green potion seems to be an intrinsic component of a trap. And it is at least a viable hypothesis that the potion is calibrated to work in concert with the lake water to produce an Inferus.
What appears to be missing from this trap, however, is the bait. The faintly glimmering green light in the center of the cave might very well draw the curious to check it out. But there is nothing which we were shown about that set-up which would tempt a trespasser to drink that potion. (It’s glowing for heaven’s sake!)
And the fact that the boat only takes one wizard at a time makes it highly unlikely that a prisoner would be brought to the island, forced to drink the potion and shoved in to be drowned. Unless everybody got on and off the island in relays.
But, under normal circumstances, there seems to be no reason why anyone who did not already know that something was hidden in the bottom of that basin would risk drinking the potion to get to it.
So, unless there is (as Swythyv put it) some goofy legend about a fountain of youth, or arcane wisdom, or specific knowledge (or unpleasant truths), attached to that Cave and that Fountain, then either wizards are even more feckless than they are usually presented, or there was some compulsion involved (although it did not seem to work on Harry. But then, neither does Imperius).
Or Albus was just making up “likely stories” on the spur of the moment again.
Which raises a few other possibilities.
• • • •
Oh, snap. I think I may have it.
Or, maybe not. But this seems to play reasonably well with things we already have been told.
(I mean it isn’t as if Rowling is ever going to explain it to us. The whole set-up was just one more “use once and discard” plot token to her.)
Why Albus dragged Harry to the cave and ordered him to force him to drink the potion. And why Tom wasn’t about to try drinking it himself.
The potion induces Remorse. That is it’s purpose. And it isn’t lethal unless your soul is so badly compromised that you are likely to die of the pain of the remorse that’s generated.
Yes, Albus knew that he needed to get Harry out of the castle if Draco was bringing in an invasion force. The last thing he wanted was to leave Harry in a position to mess with it. Yes, he had discovered that this was probably one of Tom’s Horcrux hideaways, and that he wanted to get one more of them settled before the end. But he also knew his own time was nearly up and he didn’t have an easy conscience.
He wanted to repair whatever damage his soul had taken by a lifetime of misjudgments and bad decisions before he had Snape kill him.
Albus had full access to those nasty Dark Arts books that concerned souls for years. And I still say that that cave was far older than Tom Riddle.
• • • •
I rather think that if Tom had been normal, and not power-mad, he might have made a very decent historian. He seems to have been fascinated by legends, and wonders, (and prophecies). And in the very off chance that he did make that cave he certainly was working from some extremely traditional templates.
But I still don’t think he did make that cave. I think he and the two younger children from the orphanage got into the antechamber when Tom was 9 or 10 and he had a highly successful afternoon terrorizing them there.
But Tom likes to revisit scenes of his triumphs, and he takes possession of them if he can. When he got back to the cave, after he’d had some magical training, he was able to recognize that the place had “known magic”.
And I don’t know whether he had to wait until he was an adult, or if the orphanage made another summer trip there later, during his school years (which, when you stop to think of it is very likely). I would bet that if the later is the case, a place like that cave might very well be referenced somewhere in Hogwarts library, and have a history of its own.
It wasn’t just his own ancestry and the creation of Horcruxes that Tom researched. I rather expect that our Tom spent a lot of time in the library. I’ll bet he staked out a corner of it as his own and held court there under the staff’s noses.
• • • •
We’ve still got all sorts of unanswered questions about that cave, however. Harry saw the body of at least one wizard in that lake, his robes trailing in the water. That was probably supposed to be Regulus Black (given how simplistic most of Rowling’s official answers have since turned out to be). But we have no info as to whether Regulus is now an Inferus, or simply a corpse floating in the water.
The Inferi who attacked Harry were all dressed in rags, not robes. Yet unless there was some magical element involved, you would not expect a mere corpse to be so... intact after some 17 years, even if there are no fish in that lake to mess with it. (ETA: given that Dumbledore’s body was almost perfectly preserved after nearly a year's burial, it is possible that the green potion contains some powerful preservative elements.)
And we have another puzzle as to who refilled the basin after Regulus drank the potion to switch the lockets. It is possible that Reggie simply used the spell Harry used to keep refilling Slughorn’s bottles when he got Sluggy and Hagrid drunk, and extended the residue of the potion once he lowered the level enough to get hold of the Locket, but Kreachur didn’t stay to see him do it, and Tom doesn’t ever seem to have gone back until just before the final battle. Some 18 years later.
So we do appear to have some evidence that the basin does refill of itself.. When Tom went to check on his Horcrux, he turned the potion clear to see into the basin. i.e., by the time he got there, there was potion in the basin. Albus and Harry certainly didn’t stop to refill it, but in the year since they had been there it had refilled. Acto Kreachur, Tom refilled the basin with fresh potion after Kreachur had drunk it, but we do not know whether he was the one who put the potion that Kreachur drank into the basin in the first place. It now looks as though it may have already been there, And Kreachur does not tell us whether Tom brought fresh potion to the cave to refill the basin or simply used the refill spell on the residue. I suspect the later.
And it doesn’t really explain why Kreachur whould have had to drink the potion in order for Tom to put the Locket into the basin in the first place. Had he tried to do it before on an earlier trip, and the Locket had simply sat there floating on the top of the surface? A “heavy gold Locket” ought to be heavier than most liquids, and simply sink to the bottom, regardless.
And I still don’t think the potion is lethal in itself, however painful. But it induces a great thirst and if you touch the lake, the Inferi drag you under and drown you. If he hadn’t already been determined to suicide, — which really now seems inarguable — Regulus might have ordered Kreachur to take him home with the Horcrux. He would probably have recovered in time, and, I suspect repaired his soul of whatever damage had been done during his stint as a DE.
(I still have a lot of problem with the statements that the basin can only be emptied by drinking the stuff. If you can scoop it up with a conjured crystal goblet You ought to be able to scoop it up with 12 conjured crystal goblets. Or transfigure a hole in the basin.)
At a guess — and we are way off the map here, into the land of wild-ass theories braying in the wilderness — that cave was an ancient place intended for the purification of the Champion before battle, or the God-King’s last ordeal before meeting his destiny. The spell which prevents any other water source on the island is probably also original. One drank from the fountain, and then drank from the lake, and the two combined into some form of healing of any spiritual ills that would impair the Champion’s performance. Or prevent his unworthiness for a proper reward in the afterlife if he failed. He didn’t need to drain the fountain, but he did need to drink from it.
What Tom did was to take possession of the place and defile it, booby-trapping the lake by stocking it with Inferi. But anything as ancient as that cave and that fountain has probably been written of somewhere. And Albus had just as much access to the Hogwarts library as Tom did. And for a great deal longer.
Of course, in the wake of DHs, we realize there probably is a legend about that cave. It’s probably right there in some collection like Beedle’s.
• • • •
What seems most likely from what little we do know is that Voldemort was gambling on the probability that any trespassers finding a basin of glowing green ook which they could not even touch would eventually just give up and go away. If the Inferi didn’t get them first. Which they probably would.
Because, really, Albus’s story about keeping the drinker alive long enough to be questioned only works if there is security system on the place set up to ensure that any drinker will BE questioned.
And there isn’t. There is absolutely no monitoring on the cave to alert Voldemort that he has an intruder there. There never has been. So delaying intruders for questioning can’t really be the purpose of that potion. No one is going to be summoned to question anybody in that cave. Voldemort obviously doesn’t care if the Inferi drown all intruders without learning how they got there.
What I think was going on was that, if he didn’t have inside information on it already (which, depending upon when the Horcrux was supposed to have been put into the cave, he just might have), Albus was prepared to gamble that a person could drink the potion and survive — at least for a while — if he could manage not to be dragged underwater and drowned by the Inferi in the attempt.
Following that script, Albus might even have swallowed a bezoar before departing from the castle with Harry (although that might have interfered with the Felix, so maybe not), or while Harry’s back was turned to get him some water after he staged his first “collapse”. (Incidence #2 of Harry’s attention being deliberately diverted for a critical few seconds.) He might have possibly had a vial of Phoenix tears about him, or some other antidote. Possibly even a specific antidote, if he was able to bring a sample of the potion out of the cave the first time. All he really needed was something to keep him going until he kept his appointment with Snape on top of the Astronomy tower.
• • • •
Which reminds me:
Harry did not see the Horcrux lying in the bottom of the basin through the potion.
My first reading of this description was that the potion must evidently be opaque. But this may not, in fact, be the case. The potion may, in addition to being luminous, be reflective. Highly reflective. So reflective that if the trespasser has any light source of his own — such as a wand casting Lumos, the light so generated will reflect off the surface of the potion and prevent him from seeing into the basin.
In order to see into the basin, the trespasser would need to douse his own light and wait for his eyes to adjust to the dimness until the potion’s own luminescence is enough to reveal what is concealed within. Albus and Harry did not do this on their trip into the cave. It is unknown whether Albus might have done so on his trip there, alone. If so, he would have seen that the locket in the basin was not the one that disappeared from Hepzibah Smith’s collection, and realized that he was at a dead end, unless the false locket also contained a clue. But this is not likely to be information that we are ever going to be filled in on.
Still, I think it highly unlikely that Tom knew a spell to make that potion go transparent and Albus didn’t. So if Albus didn’t use it when Harry was with him, it raises the possibility that he didn’t want to risk the chance that Harry would recognize that the locket in the basin was not the locket from Hepzibah’s collection and start raising objections. Which would suggest that Albus might already be aware of that fact himself.
Not that I can prove it.
• • • •
At this point I suddenly find myself taking an abrupt side trip. Just because I think that some of the above is the most likely explanation, does not mean it is the only explanation. Not by a long chalk.
There are a couple of other theories out there which, although easily dismissible individually, in combination really do hang together into a fairly plausible, even if somewhat over-complex explanation for what appeared to be going on in that cave.
The first of these components is John Granger’s Scar-O-Vision theory.
The Scar-O-Vision theory is one that I try very hard to resist, because it just makes everything a little too easy. The issue is examined in a bit more detail in the essay entitled ‘The Pensieve Gambit’, but to recap:
Albus asks Harry at the very first opportunity in Year 6 whether he has had any more trouble with his scar, and Harry tells him no, admitting that he had expected it to be giving him more trouble and it wasn’t. Albus responds with the rather curious statement that he had expected otherwise; that after the experience in the Atrium, Tom would have closed off the connection from the other end.
Why do we just assume that that is the end of the matter? (Well, Harry seems to, so that’s probably the reason we do.)
Is the assumption justified?
I’m not at all sure it is.
Just because Tom now has an Occlumency shield up and nothing is getting through from his end, I’m not sure that we can say that he isn’t aware that there are things out there on Harry’s end managing to get through to him. The connection still exists. And it has always been under Tom’s control, if anyone’s.
Over year 6 Harry has the usual adolescent angst to juggle, but Tom who may have been vaguely aware of it in the background, doesn’t give squat for adolescent angst. He takes no interest in Quidditch, even less in chest monsters, and while Harry was intermittently jealous, or annoyed, or embarrassed, and with the Sectumsempera incident horrified and frightened, there really wasn’t much sustained emotion going on that year from Harry’s end to catch Tom’s attention. Harry was having an uncharacteristically “normal” year. For Harry.
Until the night that Albus hauled him off to the sea cave.
Harry was handed a major shock from Sybill. And then he went into exactly the kind of sustained rage that we hadn’t seen from him since the year earlier, when he had an angry Dark Lord waltzing in and out of his head.
Can we really count on Tom not having become curious over what on earth was going on and deciding to check it out? It was Tom who had control of the connection after all.
Could Tom have opened the connection and been listening in?
In the light of DHs, it is clear that he wasn’t, since he seems to have had no idea that anyone has been making raids on his cave.
But, on the other hand, could Albus have believed that Tom had opened the connection and was listening in?
Did he think he saw a shadow of Tom Riddle in Harry’s eyes?
Is that why he suddenly — for the first time in nearly six years — fails to insist that Harry give Snape his due of respect by insisting that Harry refer to him as Professor Snape?
Is that why he carefully recounts the “likely story” of Snape’s supposed remorse upon taking up his teaching post. The story that Tom had sent Snape off with to give to Albus?
Is that why he didn’t tell Harry why he trusts Snape?
Is that why he sent Harry off to “get his cloak”? To get him out of the room so he could warn his partner in this production that Tom is up to his old tricks again?
• • • •
The second component is Professor_Mum’s (and others’) Cave!Stand-In theory.
The idea that the Albus who accompanied Harry to the cave was not, in fact, Albus is not a new one. Indeed this theory was quite popular across the fandom in the pause between the release of HBP and that of DHs. We included a rather fun early iteration of that one in our collaboration ‘Who Killed Albus Dumbledore?’ (Zossima Press, 2006). Wherein the author proposed that Cave!Albus was, in fact, Horace Slughorn. Professor_Mum, and most other theorists exploring the idea of a stand-in, more usually propose that the cave stand-in was in fact Snape.
Unfortunately, the original rationale of most such theories was to facilitate variants of Dumbledore-isn’t-Dead. Rowling put paid to that goal in August, 2006.
However, establishing that Albus is, in fact, dead, has not altogether succeeded in derailing the Cave!Substitution theories. They continue to march intrepidly across the landscape like a battery-operated plot bunny. Even more unfortunately, however, without the Dumbledore-isn’t-Dead conclusion, any attempt to determine a purpose now being served by such theories tends to boil down into; “Albus was acting really strange in that cave, and the idea is cool!”
I’m afraid this is just not good enough. The explanation of; “We can’t know what purpose it served until the final book.” is even worse. If there is any chance of a theory being viable (whether it turns out to be correct or not) it must be seen to have served a purpose at the time it happened, in the book in which it appeared. Even if that particular purpose was not its only, or even its main purpose.
Consequently I hadn’t a particularly high opinion of the Cave!Substitution theories which had been waved at me. Not even the very clever and well-examined ones. I agreed that, yes, it was clever, and yes, Albus was acting very oddly in the cave. I even agreed that it would not be too much of a stretch to suppose that if Snape had been impersonating Albus he might have acted in very much the same way. And, yes, the idea was cool. But that didn’t make it a viable theory unless you could explain the why of it. Why should Snape have substituted for Albus in the cave? Why was it necessary?
And to a very late point we were still missing it. Because, really, the idea of Albus telling Harry to “go get your cloak” and then changing places with Snape, in itself does nothing to advance the plot. It’s the whole bogus Half-Blood Prince mystery all over again. It didn’t matter a hill of beans who the Half-Blood Prince was — just so long as Harry had access to his book. It was the book itself that Harry needed in Year 6, not the identity of the Prince.
However, with the Half-Blood Prince mystery, I thought we just hadn’t been given the punch line yet. I was sure that at some point in Book 7 it would finally become very important that Harry be aware that that annotated copy of Advanced Potion-Making had once been Snape’s book. (More fool I, evidently!)
But there is still no question that Harry needed access to that book. And he needed it in 6th year.
So I was beginning to wonder about the cave, myself. I was a long way from buying the theory of there having been any substitution in the cave adventure. But if there had been, it had to have served a necessary purpose. By the time DHs was pending, I rather thought that I was beginning to get a glimmer of what — assuming there was a substitution — it may have been about.
First: you need to ask the right questions.
• • • •
The first right question is: If it wasn’t Albus in the cave, was it Albus on the tower? And I really cannot see any rationale within Rowling’s insistence that Albus is DEAD, for it not to have been Albus on the tower.
And that was definitely Snape during the Flight of the Prince. Snape was under observation by either Harry or Malfoy from the time he got to the top of the tower until he Apparated away at the main gate, so whoever it was that got thrown off the top of the tower, it was not Severus Snape.
The second right question is: If Albus didn’t drink the potion in the cave, was he really dying on top of the tower? And this, I think, is probably the crux of the matter.
If he really was dying — and it certainly looked to me like he was — and he hadn’t drunk that potion, then I’d say his death certainly hadn’t come upon him over the course of just one evening.
Therefore: if this is the case, then that wasn’t Albus that Harry spoke with in Albus’s office. That was the stand-in. The substitution had already taken place. And if this was a Polyjuice double, it was a double of Albus from a hair sample taken earlier in the year. Before his Elixir ran out.
Ergo: by that point in the year, Albus was already actively dying. He wasn’t physically up to taking part in any adventures in any cave. He barely managed to get to Hogsmead, fly back to the tower, and stay upright through the confrontation with Draco.
But Harry still had to be removed from the castle during the invasion.
By that evening, Albus had run out of the Elixir. He was failing. He had been hanging on until June, and conserving his energy in his rooms.
So what disrupted their plans? Because something had, or Harry wouldn’t have been sent off to get his cloak. The program that evening was for a Horcrux hunt. Way hey, and off to adventure!
I think it was Harry himself who had disrupted the plan. “Albus” had been expecting a curious Harry, not a furious one.
Well, if that was really Snape, he can probably see the shadow of Tom Riddle at the back of Harry’s eyes as well as Albus can by this time. He had all of a school term the year before to learn to recognize it. And given that Tom has red eyes these days, it can’t be all that difficult.
And it may well be that if that was Snape, passing on his standard cover story of repentance and forgiveness then it’s no wonder it matched the variation he gave us at Spinner’s End.
And he felt he needed to report this sudden spanner in the works to Albus before they left. It wouldn’t have taken long. But it might have had some potential impact on Albus’s tower performance later to know that there was a possibility that Tom was along for the ride.
Also: regarding the cave adventure. If that was Snape (or Slughorn) in the cave, then he drank the Potion in order to explain the collapsing Albus that he changed places with in Hogsmeade. There is no way that even Harry would have believed the reasonably heathy Albus he left with was the same wizard who was falling into his last sleep on the tower without a good excuse. The green Potion made an excellent excuse.
• • • •
In this scenario, Albus, meanwhile, was back at Hogwarts monitoring the situation while waiting for Snape’s signal, that he and Harry had returned to Hogsmeade. He had a nip of Polyjuice standing by, too. From the same batch that Snape was using. Restoring himself to a last hour’s worth of strength to see the performance out. We watched it wear off on the tower.
And I think that if the Headmaster of Hogwarts is able to lift the anti-Apparation barrier from the Great Hall for a class, he was certainly able to lift it from his own office, in order to facilitate the return switch. The barrier would without doubt be restored by his death, when he would no longer be Headmaster.
And as for that return switch: I think Professor_Mum did indeed catch the moment it happened, if it happened.
In Hogsmeade. Harry Apparates himself and Snape(?) into the village and upon arrival has a disoriented moment where he is convinced he still sees Inferi creeping toward him around the sides of the shops. He blinks, and there is nothing there. We don’t know how long this moment takes, Harry may not have the best way of telling.
Certainly not if he was Confunded.
How many times now has Rowling waved the Confundus Charm under our noses?
In PoA Snape excuses the trio attacking him to Fudge with the claim that Black must have Confunded them.
In GoF Crouch/Moody claims that someone must have Confunded the Goblet in order for it to accept Harry’s name as an entry from a bogus fourth school.
Earlier in HBP we watched Hermione Confund McLaggan at the Quidditch trials. (And a couple of weeks after school breaks up she Confunds her parents into emigrating to Australia under false identities as a childless couple.)
How do we know that Harry wasn’t Confunded to facilitate a switch?
Albus got the signal and drank his Polyjuice, Apparated to Hogsmeade, where Snape had already Confunded Harry and they switch places. Snape Apparates back to Albus’s office.
And there was no reasonable way that Snape could have known that the locket he scooped into his pocket in the rush at the cave wasn’t the right one until he got back to the castle, He hadn’t time to examine it before that. And he may not have had a chance to examine it then, either. For that matter, if there was a substitution, he had been working blind in that cave, since although I still think Albus had been there before, I very much doubt that Snape had been. He was working strictly from Albus’s report.
Upon his return, he Flooed from the Headmaster’s office to Slughorn’s. There he passed the locket over to Sluggy to later pass on to Harry, swallowed a bezoar or other antidote for the green stuff. (Or threw it up. It may not have been particularly toxic at all. Just a barrier device.)
And then he may have also taken something to cancel the Polyjuice. A dose of auto-Polyjuice from one of his own hairs if nothing else. We do not know if there is such a thing as an antidote to Polyjuice, but then we also don’t know that there isn’t, and he would have wanted to be in his own form before he Flooed to his own office to wait for his next cue. Sluggy may have also been monitoring the invasion and been able to tell him what he was going to be walking into.
After all, Snape really didn’t seem surprised by anything he found on the tower either, did he? Not even the presence of Greyback.
• • • •
It does all hang together.
I’m not a bit convinced, mind you. But it does hang together.
I’ll admit that I never seriously expected it to. But, to my surprise, it does.
Rather well, in fact.
I’ll leave the decision of whether to make use of it up to the fanfic writers.
• • • •
I have also been wondering whether the sea cave adventure may not have been another Madam-Rosemerta-is-under-Imperius-style message.
Albus pretended to “suddenly realize” that Madam Rosemerta was under Imperius, expecting Harry to take it from there and pass the word to someone in authority, to straighten the matter out. It’s possible that he may have also deliberately shown Harry where Voldemort’s army of Inferi are kept hidden for very much the same reason. And that’s a blow that could be struck against the Dark Lord without much risk on Harry’s part. All Harry has to do is tell somebody. Before Voldemort moves them out of there and puts them into play.
(About this point I found myself rather wishing that Fudge really did have a private army of heliopaths. They would have come in awfully useful in that kind of a job.)
• • • •
So long as we are wandering in a wilderness of wild-ass theories: if Albus already knew that the Locket was the Horcrux that was supposed to be in the sea cave, and that the it had already been stolen, then, strange as it may seem, to drink the potion (and take the false Horcrux out of the equation?) must have been one of the main purposes for making the trip there. And he knew that he would need somebody’s help in order to do it.
Assuming there was NO substitution, and that really was Albus, he also needed to give Harry a plausible reason which would account for why he later did not, or “could not,” defend himself when the DEs cornered him. There had to be a plausible reason to account for the fact that he neither attempted to escape, nor to fight back. Or at least a reason that would play for the time being. After all, getting himself murdered was the whole point of this exercise.
He might have set up the required scene establishing his “helplessness” in some other way, but if he did know about Reggie, then he probably also knew about the Locket at #12, and that Locket had already gone walkabout. He may even have wanted to retrieve the fake in order to introduce the R.A.B. complication to Harry. Or maybe just to keep Harry from blundering into the cave later, unsupervised, if he came across that trail from some other direction.
Because if the real Locket was the one at #12, then it had gone missing, and despite following various leads on it all year, he has not been able to relocate it. And now his time for that job has run out. He has to pass the torch to Harry.
And, of course, from a meta standpoint Albus also had to introduce the great, whopping, red herring of R.A.B. and the adventure of the sea cave Horcrux to the reader in order to distract and confuse us all, so we won’t just automatically assume that “of course” Albus faked his death; who else is there who might have done so? For I rather think that we were supposed to suspect that someone had. Rowling just wanted to drop a bombshell on our heads. Even a fake one that just popped out a flag printed “BANG!”
But, really, just as with the blasted hand; for all that drinking the potion appeared to leave him staggering, reeling, and falling down in a faint every 20 minutes, it didn’t really seem to keep him from doing anything, not even some pretty impressive things, whenever he actually needed to, did it?
Incidence #3 of attempting to divert Harry’s attention took place on their arrival in Hogsmeade and Albus’s second “collapse”. This attempt was almost immediately deflected by Madam Rosemerta. Knowing what we do now, she had undoubtedly been instructed to watch from her window for sight of Dumbledore, and to point the Dark mark out to him to draw him back to the castle, and into ambush.
• • • •
Which (finally!) brings us right up to the Grand Climax. The private performance on top of the “Lightning-Struck” Tower.
As well as incidence #4 of attempting to divert Harry’s attention: Dumbledore appears to have intended to send Harry to summon Snape to the tower before the invaders got there. We don’t know how that particular script was supposed to play out, because it got derailed. There was probably some alternate plan to immobilize Harry so he wouldn’t meddle, if his own prudence didn’t dictate discretion. Or if he couldn't have simply been got out of the way by sending him to the hospital wing to alert Madam Pomfrey.
(Thank heavens for Minerva and Flitwick, otherwise the message might not have reached Snape in time.)
Actually, as of Friday, July 13, 2007 Professor_Mum raised a question which may shed a bit of light on this particular puzzle.
Was Harry supposed to get the same treatment as Flitwick?
Run to Snape, (give him his cue), and get stunned for his trouble?
It would certainly have taken him out of the way and kept him from messing with the invasion. There would have been a risky point where he had to pass the RoR to get to the main stairs down to Snape’s office, but I think Albus would have been fairly confident that running an emergency message to Snape that Albus was in distress on the tower would have kept him from being deflected.
• • • •
Because it is just possible that for once what happened *wasn’t* what was meant to happen. I have been assuming that Harry was needed as a witness, because that is the purpose he served. But I may have been wrong about that.
Did Albus and Snape really need a non-DE witness to Albus’s murder, carrying back the details of how it happened? If Harry had not been there, what would the staff and the Order have assumed to have happened?
Albus would have still been dead.
The show would have still gone on. The show wasn’t primarily for Harry’s benefit. It was for Tom’s, Draco’s, and the DEs’. They are the ones who were supposed to be carrying back the reports of it.
If the murder was staged; the “Severus, please...” pleas were a part of the performance. They need no further explanation.
The Order and the staff would have presumed that Albus was dead at the hands of the DEs and that Snape had gone with them to get them out of the castle and — possibly — to go into deeper cover. Harry, once he woke up, might have mentioned the potion, but even that isn’t certain. He would have no doubt have told them that Albus was seriously ill when they returned to the castle, however.
Snape and Draco would have still bolted, along with the invaders. But Snape might have been a bit more likely to be understood to have gone into deep cover by his fellow Order members, and he might have got a message out to the Order and been readily believed. (ETA: his return the following year as a puppet Headmaster, might not have been met with quite such a level of hostility.)
Either Hagrid or Slughorn would have later given the locket to Harry saying that Albus had it with him. The whole point of Harry’s part of the adventure was to get him out of the way, and then to give him the locket so he could deal with it. Either as a Horcrux, or as a clue to finding one.
But with an invasion in the mix, with an unknown number of invaders and some uncertainty as to who they would actually be, the timing of the matter was precarious and they must have both known that they could not depend upon things falling out to their best advantage. That Harry might serve as a possible witness may have only been a part of Plan B, or even Plan C, but I still think it was a part of a plan.
• • • •
At this point, Rowling does a fine job of diverting our attention with her “historic” statement that one of the first things she settled upon when she set her world up is that dead is dead. Nobody comes back after having passed through true death. I doubt that even “momentarily dead” would pass muster. Not if “dead” is dead. This isn’t Star Trek. Or Buffy.
But then she’s also the one who set up the possibility of faking a death, and had already even given us faked deaths as major plot elements in two of the five earlier books. Indeed, she did this most spectacularly in the book which I had been nominating as containing the underlying pattern for the anticipated Book 7.
But the fact is that the whole issue of “dead is dead” is begging the question anyway, since when Rowling set up the Potterverse up she made quite sure that it amply supports the possibility of a very active participation from ghosts.
And, excuse me, but dead is NOT “dead”, in the generally accepted Real World sense, if every wizard gets the option of hanging on as a ghost. Her whole statement turns out to be in the way of being a feint.
Just because most ghosts that we have met in the series don’t actively participate in Potterverse events, doesn’t mean they can’t. And Albus Dumbledore has always made his own rules.
Perhaps we ought to take another look at Nearly-Headless Nick’s little speech on just why he became a ghost at the end of OotP. We knew when we first read that speech that it had to be very relevant to something. I think we may finally have the proper context in which to examine it.
Nick claims that he became a ghost because he was afraid to move on, and that this is a typical reason for the wizards who manifest as ghosts.
But it’s certainly not the only reason. We’ve also been handed the example of Professor Binns who simply doesn’t seem to realize that he is dead. That’s another standard traditional reason for manifesting as a ghost.
We also have Moaning Myrtle who will not turn loose of a grudge, to the point of having had to be forcibly restrained by the Ministry from personally haunting the schoolmates who had once tormented her
But the absolutely #1 reason in all literature for manifesting as a ghost is that of having unfinished business.
And in any event, in the Potterverse, Acto Nick, you do evidently get a choice.
So, for the moment anyway, I am provisionally going to assume that, yes, we can take Rowling at her word. Albus is dead.
But that he is not necessarily gone.
And Tom Riddle certainly isn’t in a position to go whining to the Ministry to have a ghostly Albus Dumbledore confined to Hogwarts, the way Olive Hornsby did to Myrtle. Nor does it take a great deal of imagination to think of any number of ways in which a ghostly Albus Dumbledore could prove to be much more of a nuisance to Tom Riddle and his aspirations than a live one ever would be. (Be careful what you ask for, Tom.)
I agree that Nick’s reasons to become a ghost wouldn’t faze Albus. And Albus is much too self-aware not to realize that he is dead. But unfinished business? Oh, yeah. I could see it. I could even see Albus sacrificing his hope of eternal rest in favor of being “neither here nor there” if there was a chance of atoning for the “hugest” mistake he ever made, putting things right, and seeing the former Tom Riddle (whose soul ironically is no longer intact enough to manifest as a ghost) permanently taken out of the world forever.
Or maybe we are simply missing another relevant detail. Hold that thought.
• • • •
We’ve also been hearing about the Draft of Living Death ever since Harry’s very first Potions lesson all the way back in Book 1. We’ve even brewed the stuff now. The references to it could all be set-dressing, or they could be actual hints.
But so far there has been no indication that DoLD ever played any active part in the story. Still, when the author keeps bringing the subject up you can’t exactly ignore it. Many of us were sure that she had finally put the stuff into play.
Until, of course she informed us that Albus really is dead. So I guess we can dismiss further consideration of the DoLD from this particular essay, anyway.
• • • •
Which brings us, at long last, to the AK on the tower:
The weak point in any theory is the point at which you feel you have to invent a type of magic which is not already known to be in canon. The minute you have to do that, your theory is probably hosed. Particularly this late in a series.
I seem to have managed to dodge that particular bullet regarding the “modified AK” that I extrapolated back in my original Changeling hypothesis in 2003. The spell that I extrapolated almost certainly does exist in canon. It’s even been referred to. But I got the name wrong. It isn’t some variety of AK. Possibly the mechanics are off, as well. I can live with that. I didn’t properly anticipate the name “Horcrux” either — or the number of them — but I (along with any number of other fans) nailed the concept correctly.
Well, let me admit that I am very well aware that I may not have all of the relevant details correct in the matter of Dumbledore’s murder, either. But I think I may have most of them, and all of the ones I postulate here are at least plausible, even if they later turn out to be incorrect.
(ETA: not that Rowling will ever tell us one way or the other.)
This reading also complies with the underlying rule that the better theories need to be kept simple. Just not obvious. The postulated conspiracy regarding the staged murder of Albus Dumbledore is pretty elaborate, but the concept is straightforward enough. And the more complicated parts of it are strictly in the choreography and the mechanics, and, yes, a few of the motivations. There are a lot of different characters involved here, and a lot of different threads in this bundle, and they all have to be accounted for. But everybody’s assignment in the production was pretty basic.
And it would be a big mistake to try to extrapolate unknown magic here.
Besides, we don’t need to.
Rowling has already given us all the pieces we really need in order to account for what we’ve been shown. We just have to hunt through the rest of the series to find them, sort them out, and put them in the proper order.
Of course, none of this gives us any explanation as to just why we were shown some of the things we were shown. I don’t claim to have all the answers.
• • • •
But, in any case:
Snape hit Albus squarely in the chest with an AK. By this time Harry had already seen a number of AKs thrown at Albus Dumbledore in the course of the duel in the Atrium a year earlier. He’d had a few thrown at himself by that time as well. This one looked exactly the same. I contend that it was absolutely genuine. It had to be. Otherwise Snape was flirting with the 3rd clause of that Vow.
But we had never before seen an AK throw its victim up into the air.
It’s not a levitation spell.
It didn’t do that with the spider. It didn’t do that with Frank Bryce. We don’t know for sure about Cedric Diggory, since Harry had his eyes tight shut at the time, and didn’t watch. But it certainly didn’t sound like it did.
And, allow me to say right now that there is NO SUPPORT in canon for the notion that you can invoke one spell and perform another. Snape did NOT say “Avada Kedavra” and mean “Levicorpus”. He cast an AK. He might have followed it up with a nonverbal levitation spell, but he cast an AK first. And we saw it hit Albus squarely in the chest.
We also already know that the much-ballyhooed “unblockability” of an AK basically just means that there is no known counter-curse, and that no sort of magical shield spells will stop one. Harry managed to block one once, anyway, due to a fluke of timing and the fact that he and his opponent were using “brother” wands. Solid inanimate objects also will stop one just fine. We’ve watched them do it.
Inanimate objects get knocked about and take damage from rather a lot of spells, since nearly all magic designed to affect living creatures seems to translate into crude physical force when it hits something that isn’t alive, but they do keep the spell from getting past.
So, are we perhaps supposed to conclude that by the time the AK actually hit him, Albus was already an inanimate object? Did the green potion (if he drank it) foul their timing up by reacting badly with the Elixir of Life (or the Felix, which I still think was a factor). Did Snape barely get his AK in on time for it to have read as a murder? I’m inclined to think that this is a very strong possibility.
And when the magic of Snape’s AK translated into physical force upon hitting a dead body, an inanimate object, was it the crude physical force of the blow that actually threw Albus off of the tower?
Is my original interpretation of what happened on top of that tower the correct one after all? That Albus died of the potion? That it was Harry who actually killed him?
Or did the green Potion perhaps unravel the last of the immortality granted by the Elixir of Life until the curse that blasted his hand resumed its progress and it was Tom Riddle who killed him after all?
Was it Riddle’s D.A.D.A. jinx that finally got him?
• • • •
Another possible explanation which I have recently stumbled over at 2nd-hand is that the physical force of an AK reflects the level of power the wizard puts into it, as amplified by the emotional state of the wizard at the time he casts it.
That could also work. Maybe. It is worth keeping in the back of one’s mind.
Killing the spider was a classroom exercise. Crouch/Moody would not have needed to put much power behind it.
BabyMort was not really altogether on the physical plane yet. He was also exhausted from the return to England. He may not have had much power to put behind an AK, although it was certainly sufficient to kill Frank Bryce.
Wormtail was fully functioning, and he was nervous. I still don’t think his AK threw Cedric into the air. But I do think it may have knocked him over, rather than just made him drop.
Well, we know that Snape is a powerful wizard. And we have reason to suspect that he is high-strung to begin with. He was certainly keyed up on that particular evening, too. That AK may have packed quite a punch.
I suppose that it is possible.
It’s about the closest thing to an explanation we have. Or are likely to get. The angle of attack is still all wrong for the trajectory. But then I doubt Rowling is any better at the principles of engineering than she is at genetics.
• • • •
But, also, as soon as you look at that whole sequence from the viewpoint of “what happened is what was meant to happen” then the fall from the tower must have been a part of the plan as well. For some reason, it must have been considered necessary for them to get the body out of sight for a critical few minutes. And the way they managed it was fishy as all get-out.
But if the fall from the tower was a part of the plan, then whatever intensity of AK Snape hit Albus with had to have enough magical force behind it to translate into sufficient physical force to knock Albus off his feet, and off the tower as well. Albus may have even cast a weight reduction charm upon himself during the flight back to the castle to more easily facilitate it. That might explain the “slow falling” at any rate.
From rereading the order in which the components of Albus’s murder and the fall from the tower appeared to take place, in the quote back in part I of these essays; the AK — which was genuine, even if not “powerful” — blasted Dumbledore into the air, (which was required) and then Snape (or somebody) seems to have caught him non-verbally — which was that split second when he seemed to hang suspended under the Dark mark — and then someone nonverbally cast another spell to slow the fall so that he seemed to “fall slowly” past the battlements.
Well, we’ve already encountered a “slow falling” charm available for their use. Albus cast it on Harry when he fell off his broom in a Quidditch match. It was during the match where Harry passed out from the Dementors swarming the stadium in PoA, in fact. Harry landed basically unhurt, although he probably didn't fall anywhere near as far as Albus did.
And we have no idea why the “conspirators” must have felt that all this was necessary.
Or do we? Was getting the body out of the way necessary in order to make sure that there would be no witnesses if a hoped-for ghost managed to manifest? They couldn’t have known how much control they would have over that.
Did they need to get the body out of the way in order to search it for the locket which needed to be given to Harry? Or for any other items what they did not want someone not involved in the conspiracy to find?
Was making him “fall slowly” a mark of respect?
While we are at it, when Malfoy disarmed Dumbledore Harry saw Albus’s wand fly over the battlements. Ergo: if the death had been faked, the wand was on the ground at the foot of the tower, waiting for him. But, of course Rowling assures us that the death was not faked.
Or, rather, she assures us that Albus is most sincerely dead.
But in any case, it’s small wonder Dumbledore petrified Harry so he would witness the murder (they may have needed a witness who would remain at the castle) but couldn’t mix in. Mixing in would probably have been disastrous.
• • • •
And while we are on the subject: Yes, it is Snape who almost certainly was also the one to remove the Petrificus from Harry once he knew it was safe to do so.
Petrificus Totalus doesn’t have to be lifted by the person who cast it.
Petrificus Totalus is something you learn in First year. It responds to a simple Finite Incantatum — as well as any number of other canceling charms. Harry was barking up entirely the wrong tree when he convinced himself that only the death of Albus Dumbledore could have freed him from the Petrificus. We know better than that. And so does he.
And besides, Albus’s death demonstrably didn’t free him.
AK kills instantly.
We saw it kill the spider. We know it killed Cedric as soon as it hit him. Cedric was not “dying” when Harry finally managed to open his eyes. He was dead. He was probably dead before Harry heard him hit the ground.
Snape’s AK hit Albus Dumbledore squarely in the chest, and blasted his corpse into the air and over the battlements to fall to the bottom of the tower.
And Harry was still petrified. He could not move. He could not scream (although he would have in reaction, if he had been able to). He had to stand there silent and immobile and watch it happen.
He only definitely unfroze once Snape had disappeared into the stairwell. At which point he suddenly realized that he could move again. Rowling was very careful to make it quite unclear as to just exactly when Harry unfroze. He only realized that he could move after everyone but Brutal-Face had left the tower. But he was definitely still frozen when Albus hit the ground.
It is obvious that Harry isn’t thinking at all clearly. And just in case we missed the point, Tonks had already released Harry from Draco’s Petrificus back on the Hogwarts Express at the beginning of the school year. The canceling spell Tonks used produced a flash of red light. She used something other than a standard Finite Incantatum, probably because Harry couldn’t tell her what she was supposed to be canceling (which may be a hint, you know). A plain-vanilla Finite Incantatum does not produce pyrotechnic effects, but it will cancel a Petrificus.
The caster’s death, however, didn’t.
Not this time anyway. Maybe it’s supposed to.
So, why ever might it not have worked...?
• • • •
Well, there was one moment; when Snape first burst onto the top of the tower, wand in hand, and did a sweep of the whole area, before one of the DEs spoke up and Albus made his first plea, during which Snape could have probably added a 2nd, nonverbal petrificus on top of Albus’s. That way if Albus’s petrificus was dispersed by his death, Snape’s would have held until it was safe to lift it. But, for that, Snape would need to be able to see through an invisibility cloak, or at least to know in advance where the boy was. We have some suggestion that Albus could see through Harry’s cloak, but there are no such suggestions in canon regarding Snape. (Although that would have certainly been convenient when Snape helped Filch herd the boy, in his cloak, into the room containing the Mirror of Erised back in PS/SS.) Even though it might be possible to speculate that Legilimency on a high enough order might trump invisibility cloaks, that particular line of enquiry is likely to be fruitless.
However, we definitely have already watched Snape perform a general “area” cancellation charm which nullified all of the spells within a given radius. He used it way back in the chapter on the dueling club in CoS. He wouldn’t have even needed to know Harry’s exact location in order to release him. He only needed to know that Harry was there. And if this was a staged performance, then he certainly knew that Harry was there, since Harry hadn’t shown up to give him his cue. There were also two brooms lying about and Albus would have told Snape that he was taking Harry out of the castle while waiting for Harry to show up in response to his summons. And he certainly knows about the boy’s damned cloak.
For the record, I am more inclined to suspect that the confusion over the Petrificus is either a deliberate piece of authorial misdirection or absent-mindedness, not a new piece of information about how magic works. Rowling has already amply shown us how *this particular* bit of magic works. It doesn’t work the way Harry is suddenly trying to convince us (and himself) that it does.
• • • •
And, finally, as of December 20, 2006 a correspondent finally asked me the right question to jog this picture into focus.
Magic in the Potterverse, seems to operate very much like working in a sophisticated computer application like Photoshop. There is virtually always more than one way by which one can produce the same final effect. We know off the top of our heads of at least three different cleaning charms. And the very fact that Severus Snape could fill the margins of a textbook with notes for homemade spells that all worked before he was out of his teens suggests that Magic itself is really pretty fluid. And we can see for ourselves that spellhacking isn’t that unusual.
The Marauders adapted and modified all sorts of charms. The twins do it all the time. Hermione has one or twice too. This isn’t inventing magic. It is customizing it.
So maybe we are still asking the wrong question. Maybe, in view of the fuzzy timing of Albus’s presumed death, we ought not to be asking whether Snape’s AK was a real AK, but whether Albus’s Petrificus was a real Petrificus.
We didn’t hear it cast. The door burst open and Malfoy yelled Expeliarmus! And Harry momentarily wondered why he couldn’t move, because Expeliarmus isn’t a freezing charm.
It acted like a Petrificus. As noted above, Harry had already been put under Petrificus once before in this book and this one felt just the same.
Mightn’t Albus have used some other freezing spell instead? Hell, mightn’t he have adapted one to hold Harry still until it was lifted by an actual counterspell without reference to the caster at all. For a wizard of his stature it can’t have been that difficult.
Leaving it up to Snape to gauge when it was safe to lift the spell and release Harry.
• • • •
And then, finally, Snape had to chivvy the DEs out of the castle.
He couldn’t hang around and find out whether the whole plan had worked.
Small wonder he was so overwrought by the time Harry caught up to him down at the main gates and tried to fight him.
And for Potter to be trying to fight him was just the icing on the cake.
Snape must have been on tenterhooks as to whether or not their plan had really gone off as intended until Albus’s message reached him the day of the funeral, and put his mind at rest. I mean, really! If you accept the premise that it was a conspiracy to stage a murder, and you can’t stay to find out whether or not it went as planned... it’s small wonder a control freak like Snape was in such a state.
It was been pointed out, over on the Tea at Spinner’s End board (now gone, more’s the pity), that just about all of the thugs that Malfoy smuggled into the Castle who were at liberty to do so, had a go at attacking Harry during the escape-and-pursuit down to the main gates. Fenrir tackled him, knocked him down, and would have savaged him. The Carrows hexed him from behind. The “Big Blond” even hit him with Cruciatus (I originally thought this was probably the elder Goyle, He and the elder Crabbe were identified as the largest of the DEs at the graveyard assembly two years before, if you remember, and Crabbe was swept up with the rest of the trash in the raid on the DoM the previous June. But no, it was someone named Rowle). And Snape put a stop to it all with the exhortation to remember their orders, that Potter belonged to the Dark Lord. Before he Apparated away, pursued by a hippogriff.
After first giving the boy a last dueling lesson, and then turning him over to Hagrid.
• • • •
And, right about now, maybe we ought to go back and question whether it really was Neville who petrified Greyback after all.
Neville was about the only one of the defenders who was in a position to do so. Everyone else was engaged in one-on-one battles by the time Harry scrambled out from under Greyback’s petrified body, and they weren’t likely to have been in any position to have been watching out for Harry a moment earlier. Particularly since from the defenders’ point of view the battle had been ongoing for some time, their enemies had just got reinforcements, and none of them even knew that Harry was in the castle. Neville was down, having been injured earlier in the melee, but he was still armed and still conscious.
The order in which the raiding party started down from the tower was: Malfoy, Greyback, the brother-sister act (the Carrows, who by this time really put one strongly in mind of a pair of overexcited pugs), Snape, and, finally, Brutal-Face.
Harry had already petrified Brutal-Face at the top of the stairway. The defenders let Malfoy and Snape through the pack.
As soon as he emerged from the stairwell, Harry caught a glimpse of Snape whipping around the corner at the end of the hall, when Greyback broke away from another fight and tackled him. Somebody immediately petrified Greyback, and Harry scrambled up to find that everyone but Neville was engaged in a one-on-one battle. He mixed in and once three of the invaders broke away and the hall cleared a bit, he pursued them.
So. Okay. Harry heard the “Petrificus Totalus!” which got Greyback. It was cast verbally. Which argues in favor of it having indeed been Neville who cast it.
On the other hand, if Snape and Albus had been in cahoots since Harry was in diapers, Snape knew exactly how important Harry is to the ongoing mission to take out Voldemort, and he knows that Harry is right behind him, about to run straight into a clutch of Voldemort’s most vicious fighters.
Tonks says she heard Snape shout something although she couldn’t be sure of what. It could have just been the “It’s over! Time to go!” announcement. Or, possibly not.
It would have looked highly suspicious for Snape to hold back in his “retreat” while he was still in the hallway among the castle defenders, but, how do we know that he did not whip around that corner, urge Malfoy on, and, in his character as “Leader”, take one last look, and, just maybe, fire off one last hex into the mob?
After all, we know what Snape thinks of werewolves.
And to take out their leader would be an efficient use of the opportunity.
But, I think the only way we are going to find out the truth will be if Harry tries to discover who saved him in order to thank them, and none of the defenders will admit to it. Given the frequency with which we’ve ever heard Harry actually express his gratitude to the people who keep saving his bacon, I’d give the subject about a 20% chance of ever coming up at all.
Snape definitely put a stop to the Big Blond’s Cruciatus with the exhortation that Potter belonged to the Dark Lord. Snape had certainly not mentioned any orders to the effect of Potter “belonging” to the Dark Lord the summer before at Spinner’s End, and even Bellatrix would have regarded such a justification as inarguable.
So either this was a more recent order which was given since the face-off in Snape’s sitting room, (quite possible, since that meeting took place nearly a full year earlier) or Snape improvised, on the spur of the moment, knowing that it would almost certainly be accepted — since it chimed in tune with the orders from the previous year, when everyone was to leave Potter alone until Voldemort had heard the whole Prophecy. He was taking a risk that none of these clowns will mention that “reminder” in Voldemort’s hearing, but I think he may have second-guessed the Dark Lord’s wishes in any case. Or, that may have been their orders. Or, at least, his orders.
• • • •
Which brings us to those possible “silent partner(s)” in the conspiracy to stage Albus’s murder.
There are several candidates.
There was probably at least one more active participant, even though not necessarily one who was fully informed. I, for one, am not at all convinced that the DEs put any barriers on that staircase. Nor have we ever heard of magical barriers which can be demolished by a stray hex. Magical barriers are designed to repel hexes. And falling masonry, too. You need a specific counter-spell to demolish a magical barrier.
And just whose purpose did that barrier really serve? Would the DEs have cared if the battle followed them up to the top of the tower?
But Albus would care. The last thing he would want would be for his staff or the Order to start messing with the staging of his murder. (Particularly with Harry possibly stuck in the middle of it, invisible and immobilized and unable to get out of the way of a melee.)
I think we’ve got another Book 6 = Book 2 moment here.
After all, we watched Dobby pull exactly the same “throw him through the air” number on Lucius Malfoy at the end of CoS, didn’t we? On a staircase, too, thank you very much. Dobby had invited himself along to the final face-off (just the way Greyback did?) and played a very active part in the resolution of book 2. I think he may have done it again in book 6. This time under orders.
After all, the mark of a good House Elf is that he isn’t seen, unless he chooses to be.
I think Albus sent Harry off to “get his cloak”, and then he summoned Dobby and asked him to monitor the staircase.
Dobby wasn’t really a party to the events going on up on the top of the tower. He was just standing guard at the bottom of the staircase and keeping the staff, the kids, and the Order members from getting up the stairs. Albus absolutely did NOT want them messing with his murder. And I don’t think he’d have left that kind of thing to chance if he didn’t have to. And he didn’t have to. He could call on Dobby, who he personally employs, and Dobby trusts the Headmaster.
And that goes double and in spades if Swythyv is right, and Albus hadn’t hired Dobby as a Hogwarts elf, three years earlier, but as his personal elf.
So Dobby had his orders: let Malfoy and the DEs go up to the top of the tower. Keep everyone else out, until Professor Snape comes and takes the DEs away. And Dobby would have happily spent all night keeping people out if it had been necessary.
So much for curse-breaking masonry.
Once Snape went up the stairs, and started herding the DEs back down, Dobby’s job was done and he went back to his quarters.
• • • •
And Fawkes, who could Apparate to London on a nanosecond’s notice to eat an AK on Dumbledore’s behalf the year before, this year can’t be arsed to haul his tail feathers to the top of a tower of the same castle? Oh puh-leeze. This event was just SO planned...
• • • •
There has to have been at least one more member of the cast, however. Unless Albus has his staff so well trained that he could leave them to wrap the matter up without any direction at all. And that sounds a bit out of character from what we know of Albus. By the end of the evening the plan was that Albus would be dead and Snape would be gone. Somebody else was going to have to wrap the business up in a tidy bow, and to arrange for a nice gaudy, conspicuous funeral so Voldemort will be certain to get the message that he has won this round.
Minerva is the most likely suspect for arranging the funeral, of course. She had the authority to make all of the arrangements. And she was also the one who sent Flitwick to fetch Snape — and was able to tell Flitwick exactly where to find him, too. But Minerva’s reaction when she learned of Dumbledore’s death (or, more specifically, that Snape had murdered him) would have been hard to fake, and she hasn’t been set up as being any kind of an actress. She nearly fainted.
And could Snape and Albus really have kept Hagrid out of it? I really, truly doubt it. This was a “Dumbledore’s men” production all the way. With Snape (as usual) cast as the villain, Harry as witness, and Hagrid as chief mourner.
And Hagrid is the one — the only one — who is known to have actually dealt with the body. He carried it into the castle and laid it out, probably in Dumbledore’s own rooms. And later carried the corpse, wrapped in its pall to the place of internment.
And of course no one could possibly have cast any doubts upon the “legitimacy” of the circumstances, in the face of such profound grief as Hagrid’s, could they? Hagrid is virtually incapable of dissembling, isn’t he?
Well, yes. I’m sure that everyone involved in the plot was counting on that widespread assumption, too.
But, contrary to most appearances, Hagrid can keep a secret. He sometimes blurts what is at the top of his mind, but he only blurts among people he trusts; those he is confident are all on the same side that he is. He has never, not even once, whatever the provocation, let anything indiscrete slip out in the presence of, say, Malfoy. He’s a bit like Snape, in that regard. I very much doubt that Snape has ever thrown one of his monumental hissy fits among his fellow Death Eaters.
For example: what would you be willing to wager against the probability that Hagrid has known the identity of the barman at the Hog’s Head ever since Aberforth Dumbledore took up his post there? And in what must be something like 50 years, if not longer, in all that time Hagrid has never even dropped a hint?
Of course Hagrid is aware that he tends to blurt. And he trusts Dumbledore absolutely. He would not have insisted upon knowing the full details of the plot. What he knew, if anything, is that Voldemort wants Dumbledore dead, and that Dumbledore is going to do something.
Hagrid doesn’t know what, he doesn’t know how, he doesn’t know when, and he certainly does not know that Snape is going to be the one to kill him.
And Albus didn’t have Hagrid patrolling the halls with the Order members. Hagrid was off in his hut tending some injured bowtruckles. He didn’t even see the Dark mark floating above the castle. Nothing brought him out of his hut until he heard Harry screaming when the Big Blond hit him with Cruciatus.
But when you step back and take a hard look, it seems rather interesting to reflect that whereas in PoA Hagrid was fulminating over the perfidious Sirius Black and growling that if he got his hands on him he would rip him “limb from limb”, he makes no such vengeful statements directed at Severus Snape. Indeed his statement that Dumbledore “must have told Snape to go with them Death Eaters” now sounds suspiciously like one of our regulation Hagridian blurts.
And, later in the evening, when all voices are raised in vilification of Severus Snape, we notice that Hagrid’s voice is conspicuously absent from the chorus. Indeed I cannot think of any point in the entire six (now seven) books where Hagrid has ever uttered a single word against Severus Snape. And it’s certainly not from a general unwillingness to speak ill of anybody. Hagrid gets very nasty about Slytherins in general. He’s about the only adult character in the series who does.
But he never does it about Snape.
And by the time he shows up in the hospital wing he is in such a flood of tears that it deflects any impulse to question him. He remains behind this barrier of tears all through the funeral as well.
• • • •
And last, but hardly least, we may have one final backstage helper in this production as well.
The Props Manager.
Here I am slightly less sure of what is going on. The whole business could be exactly what it appears.
But it really does seem just a bit much to expect us all to assume that after micro-managing the affair practically all the way to the final curtain call, that the conspirators should then just all sit back and leave it up to chance to get the false Horcrux out of Albus’s pocket and see it passed on to Harry.
A fat lot of good it would have done anybody if left in Albus’s pocket for Minerva to find! But isn’t it a bit late in the evening to be introducing another totally random element to the proceedings?
I mean, we already got our standard allotment of randomness for this book with Trelawney blundering into the Room of Hidden Things just at the moment she did.
So let’s look at the situation: Harry and Hagrid approach the crowd of Hufflepuffs that was gathering around something at the base of the tower. (And why were they gathering there, when Hagrid’s hut was blazing merrily away in plain sight? Why aren’t they coming to assist Hagrid with the fire?) There is a gap in the crowd for Harry to get through. And there Harry sees Albus lying on the ground, spread-eagle, his glasses askew, a trickle of blood from his mouth.
Harry does not actually see the locket at all. He only discovers it a moment later because he managed to kneel on it.
Somehow, my attention manages to snag on what surely must be the most irrelevant detail in that whole description.
Why the blood?
Corpses don’t bleed, properly speaking. Their hearts are no longer pumping blood at the pressure needed to force it out through just any old break in the circulatory system. Their hearts are no longer pumping blood at all. So it shouldn’t leak. Not unless it is a large break. Or unless it is getting some help from the force of gravity. But Albus was lying face up. And he had fallen slowly. He wouldn’t have hit the ground at full force. And any damage would have been to his back, not anything that would have produced an artistic little trickle of blood from his mouth.
Neither an AK nor the green potion are likely to have made him bleed.
But we have seen blood used “artistically” in this manner before, haven’t we?
Dragon’s blood. A little dusty now, but possibly still “useful”.
It isn’t particularly difficult to draft out a script wherein Slughorn (Mr death-scenes-tableaux on a 2-minute notice, a specialty) was waiting at the base of the tower to catch the body as it fell. He would have set up the scene, arranged the body, (welcomed the ghost, if it manifested) made sure the robes were decently covering Albus’s skinny old legs, and taken the false Horcrux out of the pocket, possibly gotten it open. Then he would have lurked until the crowd showed up (pretending to be a bush?), mingled in with the Hufflepuffs, and when Harry approached the body Sluggy would have conjured the locket into position for him to kneel on it.
No, not difficult to imagine at all. I’m just not totally convinced it happened.
I do know that if it anything like it did happen the Props Manager would have been Slughorn. He would have been glad to do it too. It would have given him a perfect reason to be out of the castle while the DEs were invading it.
Horace Slughorn is an incorrigible old showman. But I think that Albus appreciated a good show. And they worked very well together. Horace had already passed the Potions’s book, another critically important prop, to Harry earlier in the year. And I’m fairly sure that was at Albus’s prompting, too. And apart from possibly Snape, Slughorn is the only member of the staff who has any inkling of their Horcrux problem. So it is not all that much of a stretch.
Although I do think he overplayed his hand a bit with that trickle of blood.
• • • •
I really did expect the school to remain closed for the coming year. Or at least for the Autumn term. But I knew that it would not be empty. At the very least, Hagrid, who is remaining at Hogwarts regardless, would have to move indoors, since his hut is uninhabitable. The castle is Trelawney’s home as well. To say nothing of the House Elves’. And, these days, Firenze. Probably Filch as well.
And by the time the students board the Hogwarts Express to return to London (which hadn’t happened yet in canon by the end of the book, actually), the rest of the Order of the Phoenix might have known that Albus was still around.
One way or another. Albus was in attendance at his own funeral. He had an important message to send out, after all.
Albus Dumbledore’s grand public send-off was a fine bit of communication all round. It sent a loud, obvious message of the end of an era to the Ministry and to the Wizarding world in general.
It sent a loud and clear message to Lord Voldemort, as well.
I was sure that it also sent another, not so loud, somewhat different message to the members of his Order. Nearly all of whom, even his brother Aberforth, were in attendance at it.
We know that the members of the Order of the Phoenix communicate with each other by means of their Patroni.
Patroni, as we know, are silver-white. And each one’s form is unique.
We’re told Albus Dumbledore’s Patronus always took the form of a Phoenix.
Harry was sure for a moment that he saw the form of a Phoenix rising joyfully from the white smoke and the (bright, white) funeral fires.
Which disappeared into the blue, no doubt bearing its message to one particular Order member who was not at the funeral.
Was this Albus’s Patronus? I thought we would find out eventually.
And that the Order all now knew that he may be dead, but he is not gone.
After all, those we love never truly leave us.
• • • •
And, now for the $64,000 question:
Why should Rowling go out of her way to inject such a monumental level of ambiguity into the question of the death of Albus Dumbledore?
Because she clearly put a lot of work into making the whole thing such a masterpiece of confusion and contradiction.
She’s the author: she could have written the murder of Albus Dumbledore simply, powerfully, and effectively, and instead she has chosen to make it flashy, melodramatic, and confusing. I doubt this was either by accident or through any particular lack of confidence as a writer. (ETA: although by this time I suspect she may have been just too burnt-out to be thinking clearly enough to do anything but try to get to the end.)
As somebody over at Spinner’s End pointed out, the whole thing is practically seamless. Every single questionable detail supports two just about equally valid interpretations. One of these supports the reading that Dumbledore is dead, and the other, just as convincingly supports the reading that he isn’t. But if she had wanted us to suspect that the death may have been faked, why did she go out of her way to deny it a year later?
Unless she just wanted to drop a bomb and keep the public interest high.
For that matter, she directly told us in an earlier interview that Grindelwald was dead too.
Which of course by 2005 he was. But the story had only progressed to 1997 at that point, and Grindelwald was still alive and kicking.
Of course the very fact that there is such a stacking order of ambiguous details is in itself highly suspicious. Because if Rowling had wanted the matter to be clear, at the time, there would be no question about it. The AK would have hit him and he would have fallen down dead, and there would be no question. He’s dead, Jim. Move on.
Instead, we have the present morass of confusion and contradictions. This end result simply did not happen by accident. Ms Rowling has already shown us that she can be one tricky customer, and she clearly intended for us to be confused. Something is fishy here, and there is more of a twist to this tale than we were picking up. I suspected we simply didn’t have the proper context for something that really matters.
• • • •
But then, flashy, melodramatic and confusing isn’t exactly an unfamiliar combination with Rowling, is it? I don’t think you can get much more confusing than the climax of OotP (which she wouldn’t even let us watch).
But I rather think our real parallel here is the last few chapters of GoF. In fact the climax of GoF and the climax of HBP can practically serve as a pair of bookends wherein first Voldemort, and then Dumbledore see to it that Harry he is rendered immobile and silent and then forced to watch as one’s servant mutilates himself in order to facilitate his return, and then the other’s servant mutilates his soul to facilitate his departure. (One now suddenly wonders whether that mysterious overheard quarrel is supposed to be a companion piece to the discussion in the opening chapter of GoF wherein Pettigrew offers to find some other wizard to serve as a blood donor for Voldemort’s return, rather than Harry Potter, and is overborne.)
Nor is that the only possible GoF parallel. There is also the nagging issue as to whether AK throws its victim into the air. Which first seems to have been suggested in GoF. (Although, again, we weren't allowed to watch.)
It doesn’t do that in an enclosed space, anyway. Both the spider and Frank Bryce were murdered indoors and they fell where they stood. We were shown that much.
But it turns out that we’ve got another incredibly screwy account about the behaviour of an AK in the murder of Cedric Diggory, which we weren’t permitted to actually witness, either.
At the point of the confrontation leading to Cedric’s murder, Wormtail had been approaching the two boys (who were standing side by side) in the graveyard. He is stated to have paused next to a towering grave marker “only six feet away” from them, and the three of them stare at one another. Then Harry was hit by a Voldemort-proximity headache, dropped his wand and shut his eyes. Voldemort then gave his order to kill the spare, Harry heard the swish of the wand and Pettigrew’s Avada Kedavra, followed by a heavy thump next to him.
He pried his eyes open to see Cedric lying on the ground, next to him, dead. Wormtail then grabbed him, forced him over to that towering grave marker (still only 6 feet away) turned him around shoved him up against the stone, bound him to it and gagged him.
It then states that Harry saw Cedric’s body lying “some 20 feet away”, with Harry’s own wand lying at its feet, and the TriWizard Cup beyond.
Where is a continuity editor when you need one?
Preferably one who can count.
Point: Harry heard Cedric fall next to him. Not some 14 feet away.
Point: He saw Cedric’s body lying next to him before Wormtail grabbed him and dragged him over to the monument.
Point: Harry dropped his own wand when the pain of the Voldemort-induced headache blindsided him. He did not toss it across the graveyard.
Point: the wand is still lying next to Cedric’s body.
And yet the six foot distance is suddenly 20 feet.
This is just plain slipshod writing, and I am not convinced it means anything apart from a love of grandiose-sounding statements that turn out to be hollow, and the fact that some editor wasn’t on their toes when they ought to have been. We certainly cannot draw any safe conclusions from such a mess of internally inconsistent and self-contradictory data as that.
I am inclined to wonder whether the deliberate confusion of the climax of HBP may be intimately linked to another bit of deliberate confusion earlier in the same book, namely, the “grand contradiction” between Albus and Sybill’s conflicting accounts of what really happened the night of the first Prophecy. The first of these incidents marks the beginning of Harry’s part in this story arc. The second incident refers back to that beginning and moves us into position for the beginning of the end of the series.
But I can’t make it fit.
• • • •
I was sure that if Rowling held to the established pattern that she had set up; wherein the first three books of the series appeared to be being echoed by the last three; we may have already seen the conclusion of the series enacted in proxy form in the climax and conclusion of Book 3: ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’.
Which — time travel notwithstanding — in comparison with the following three books was a masterpiece of clarity.
For that matter, both PS/SS and CoS had nice, clear resolutions as well, comparatively speaking. Even though there was a great deal going on in all of them. Rowling can write a satisfactory climax if she really wants to.
The official climax of PoA was the race back through time to save Sirius Black and Buckbeak. In the course of it we got the mass Dementor attack by the lake during which Harry discovers his true “Patron,” his protector, and it turns out to be himself.
But the part of the book that really connects with the reader, the part that sticks in the mind long after finishing it, isn’t so much Harry’s epiphany by the lake, but the confrontation and revelations in the Shrieking Shack.
The whole course of action over the progress of PoA was structured to lead up to that confrontation in the Shack. Pettigrew’s escape and the rescue of Sirius Black (and Buckbeak) feel almost like an afterthought.
If Book 7 is a reflection of PoA there is no way that Rowling is not going to give us a redux of the confrontation in the Shack. It’s just too major an element to omit.
I think that all through HBP she was “moving furniture” to get her stage set up to throw us all back into the same frame of mind that we were in at the opening of PoA.
She had a much easier job of setting the scene in PoA. She could arbitrarily introduce Sirius Black, who we’d only heard mentioned once before in the whole series, as the enemy without a jot of background. Absolutely nobody questioned the belief that Sirius Black was Harry’s enemy from page 1. Any background information on the matter she fed to us later, in the course of the book.
Sirius Black was the enemy; the first time Harry saw Sirius’s photograph, Harry thought that he looked exactly like a vampire; he was Voldemort’s second-in-command; he had betrayed Harry and his parents, he had murdered Peter Pettigrew (the Potters’ true friend) — along with a dozen Muggles in front of a whole street of witnesses, and now he was stalking Harry.
And by the time the two came face to face Harry “hated him more than he hated Lord Voldemort.”
Sound familiar, much?
If this is what she is up to — and I was confident that it was — it’s a much more tricky balancing act than she had back in PoA.
Back in PoA we hadn’t anything but the apparent flip-flop of Sirius Black having suddenly gone from being James Potter’s “inseparable” best friend to the official Ministry viewpoint of his being Voldemort’s 2nd-in-command, without anyone ever having suspected a change in his allegiance, to make us suspicious. I mean, really, looked at logically, this fable made absolutely no sense, and not everyone in the wizarding world even bought the story (Madam Rosemerta claims she didn’t, for one). But none of us ever questioned it over the course of the book. We were nowhere near as aware of just how tricky Rowling can be back in 1999.
But this time she has built up six whole books of apparent familiarity with the character that she is now shoving into the Sirius Black role, and while she might misdirect us all over the landscape, she cannot altogether make us forget that we’ve been watching Snape for several years now. She has hedged her bets by holding back all sorts of information about him, and not really giving us much to work from when trying to interpret him or his behavior. But we know even less about Remus Lupin (to say nothing of Peter Pettigrew — which is what Rowling usually does), and yet have far fewer suspicions of there being any great mystery about him to solve.
If we are building up to another Shrieking Shack revelation/reversal, then what she did over the course of HBP was to deliberately weight the scales in the opposite direction in order to tear down the confidence that the reader had built up in the character of Severus Snape over the previous 5 books. By this time, the reader is supposed to hate Snape as much as Harry does.
And I suspected that over the course of Book 7 we would be given even more apparent reason to do so.
We would learn more of Snape’s history through the lens of any number of 3rd-parties’ current biases — now that they believe him to be a traitor, and a murderer, and Lord Voldemort’s second-in-command — and the surface reading of this information will not show in Snape’s favor.
We will almost certainly get some sort of equivalent to the Three Broomsticks eavesdropping scene complete with information that will sound very bad indeed, but, like that discussion in the Three Broomsticks, will ultimately prove nothing but that people are determined to interpret what they see according to their biases. I suspect that whatever interaction Snape may have had with Lily Evans (if any) could come out during this sequence. It will not do Snape any credit.
But, as of 2006, just to make a tentative prediction: I thought that despite Voldemort (who may be flitting in and out of sight, much as the Grim did in PoA — something of ill-omen will be doing so anyway) and the hunt for the Horcruxes, and the probability that the story is going to be wall-to-wall with Dementors, I was pretty much convinced that Snape’s role as a fugitive in Book 7 is going to take a fairly central position in it. Book 7 was going to be as much about Severus Snape as PoA was about Sirius Black
And just what did we finally learn in the Shrieking Shack, last time?
We learned that the enemy we’ve been dodging all through the book isn’t the real enemy. He isn’t an enemy at all. He wasn’t the traitor. He wasn’t the one who betrayed Harry’s parents. Or certainly not intentionally — although his actions did contribute to that betrayal. And he has been trying all along to protect Harry, not kill him.
The real traitor was someone else altogether, someone that nobody ever suspected. Someone whom everyone had trusted. Someone everyone believed to have been foully murdered — by Sirius, before multiple witnesses. And it was that murder, not the betrayal of the Potters, which has made him a fugitive.
Which means that we older fans who for some years have been convinced that Peter Pettigrew was going to prove to be monumentally significant to the resolution of the series may have been just a bit off-target.
Oh, sure, Peter may be awarded his little Gryffindor moment, and probably will go out in a teensy blaze of glory. In any event, he’s toast. But it isn’t Peter Pettigrew himself which is going to prove significant to the big picture, it is his former role.
And in the final reckoning, Albus Dumbledore will be playing that role.
• • • •
Let me explain myself.
In this pair of essays, I have been trying to project the final conclusion of the story arc according to what I interpreted as the underlying pattern to the series as it had already played out up to the end of HBP. And Snape being “Dumbledore’s man” fits that pattern better than any other alternate interpretation.
Indeed this is a major component of the pattern that I see. If Snape is not Dumbledore’s man, then I have misinterpreted the whole pattern of the series. I admit that I may have done exactly that. But I do not think I have.
So I have a good deal invested in this interpretation, and to this point I simply do not see anything which significantly contradicts it, or that would force me to question my basic reading of the series.
I may turn out to have been taking another scenic cruise down the Martian canals, but I am discerning a pattern here. And I see too many indications that the pattern really is there to be able to dismiss the “Snape is Dumbledore’s man” component of it any more than I can dismiss all of the indications that Harry is the final Horcrux.
The most prominent indication of this pattern that I am seeing at the moment is that — based upon the last two books and their echoes and reflections of the first two books — I AM CONVINCED that we are being set up to watch Book 7 echo and reflect major elements, and indeed the primary thrust of PoA. And the events over the course of HBP have conspired to put Severus Snape into the position of stepping directly into the role previously played by Sirius Black. I mean, really, can anyone claim that Snape’s position right now in the story arc, is significantly different from Black’s position at the opening of PoA?
The “great revelation” of PoA was that — all previous indications notwithstanding — Sirius Black was NOT the traitor. He was NOT the enemy. He was trying to PROTECT Harry, not to kill him. The “traitor” was someone whom everyone had trusted and who was believed to have died at Black’s hand.
I am confident that this much of the pattern will repeat in Book 7.
Ergo: Snape is Dumbledore’s man. Dumbledore has not had his final word yet. And it was Dumbledore who deliberately allowed the partial Prophecy to escape. Thereby setting in play this whole story cycle.
• • • •
But about that death.
By the release of DHs, I’d had a couple of years to think about the death of Albus Dumbledore and a couple of additional side issues had occurred to me regarding the established traditions pertaining to the deaths of great wizards as they are presented in literature and folklore.
I was not sure that such traditions are something that we can really afford to overlook. Even if Rowling, in the end, chose not to follow them.
Merlin, Gandalf, whoever (although those two are the ones most built to the established tradition, Tolkein was following a template far older than he was):
Their “official deaths” all seem to have something in common.
They don’t leave bodies.
Usually nobody actually sees them die. Or, not and have them stay dead, anyway.
And they definitely don’t leave tombs where, over the next couple of hundred years, somebody’s bound to get the bright idea to break into it and steal the bones.
Instead, they usually just disappear.
Generally in some manner shrouded in Mystery.
Which makes Dumbledore’s death — and even more to the point, his funeral — very, very unusual when regarded in a traditional context.
And even more convinced me that Albus just wasn’t in that white tomb.
Even if he was dead.
What strikes me as being most in character for the death, or perhaps I ought to say the departure, of a Great Wizard, would be for him to reappear briefly *after* the hero has completed his great task, and to take a highly visible part in mopping up the stray odds and ends and seeing to it that justice is done to all of the active participants —
[Which in this case is an absolutely necessary function if any kind of justice is to be done. If Snape and Albus have been in cahoots since Harry was a baby, then Snape has never really acted independently, and he has nothing left to atone for, apart from a nasty disposition; and yet he has always been required to play the villain in public. Things cannot help but to look very black indeed for him without Albus to Explain It All]
— and then to slip away quietly without fanfare. Typically in some mysterious manner leaving people to make up their own explanations and probably spin some “goofy legend” that if the need were ever great enough he might come back.
What Dumbledore actually got was your boilerplate Hero’s send-off, or more accurately, the tribute to a great King.
You can just about rationalize this on the grounds that he was allegedly one of “yesterday’s heroes”, and he was set up as being very close to the uncrowned King of wizarding Britain. But he wasn’t serving the function of a “hero” in the story. Or that of a King. He was serving the function of the “wise old wizard”.
So for all that his funeral was very moving, I’m not sure it really fits.
I mean, wouldn’t you say that it was rather overdone?
What would fit the traditional template (and Rowling’s established pattern) would be first; for Harry and his allies to settle Voldemort; and THEN Albus would make his final appearance, do his usual debriefing, make sure that no one is going to suffer for their actions in the war who doesn’t deserve to, and then to quietly slip away from the resulting celebration and step through the Veil.
I mean, we all know that eventually we are going to be getting back to that room with the Veil. We knew that as soon as Rowling introduced it.
Indeed, what would fit the template very well, would be for Albus (or Ghostly!Albus) to make his rather subtle personal farewells to various individuals, in the course of circulating at some crowded, overblown Ministry wrap-up, and for Harry to lose sight of him, suddenly realize what Albus has done and race down into the Department of Mysteries too late to see anything but the Veil still fluttering in the breeze of his passing.
And if the pattern holds, it may be Snape who keeps Harry from following. Although it is possible that he may follow Albus, himself.
It would be Hagrid who reminds Harry that he still has friends who would grieve if he should run off before his time.
• • • •
It seems that I have turned out to have been very laggard about directing my attention to GoF as a source of potentially relevant patterns.
There that book is; sitting plopped in the middle of the series, huge and intractable with no scheduled “partner book” to balance it. Various details from it have shown up on our radar as having recurred, or having been recurrences, but very little attempt has been made to mine it for patterns.
I think that this may turn out to have been a mistake.
One thing that boggles me is that even at the end of the series there are still people out there who have managed to convince themselves that the character of Severus Snape is secondary to almost any teenage character in the books. “These are CHILDREN’S books! The story is about the kids!” they earnestly exhort us.
It should be obvious by this time, that there are only four “cardinal” characters in this story. Those four characters are Albus, Tom, Snape and Harry. EVERYBODY else is a secondary character.
And, no, the story is not about “the kids”. It is about Harry. Ron and Hermione are NOT Harry.
The story is not about them.
Actually, my own instinct is to suspect that the whole shindig is really all “about” Tom Riddle.
The villain, after all, IS the story.
Harry only got swept up into this circus at random, as a direct result of Tom’s own determination to regard himself as “special”.
The Prophecy demons tossed a card upon the table. Albus had no better sense than to pick it up and put it into play, Snape passed it to Tom, and Tom pulled Harry into the equation by trying to use it for a trump. It could just as easily have been Neville. It probably almost was.
That’s the point.
From that day on, all three of the other cardinal characters have made their contributions toward equipping Harry for that final confrontation and the resolution of the Prophecy demons’ gambit. Tom unknowing, Snape unwilling, and Albus in gruesome, but ultimately willing service to the requirements.
But the base element of this particular hell brew was baby Harry.
Who, in essence, it turns out is not special at all.
You could even call it an echo, or perhaps a foreshadowing of Tom’s rebirthing ritual from the stone cauldron if you wanted to.
I’m rather afraid that I must.
• • • •
And, speaking of echoes:
I suddenly realize that I have been appallingly laggard concerning another GoF-related detail, as well.
I have been ignoring a whole additional component of our continuum between the living and the dead.
At the climax of GoF we were shown the echoes of Tom Riddle’s (and Peter Pettigrew’s) last five victims. Cedric, Frank, Bertha, Lily, and James.
What were they, really? They were all dead people, but they were not ghosts. According to Nearly-Headless Nick, Frank Bryce, as a Muggle, wouldn’t have been capable of manifesting as a ghost. And every one of them had already passed through the veil.
But somehow they knew about the two-way portkey?
That doesn’t make any kind of sense. Actually it smells like balognium to me. But we all accepted it at the time.
So, okay then. What else might they have known?
Their time in the material world was limited, but it was long enough for them to pass critical information.
Once the penny finally dropped, I suspected that the probability that somehow Albus will once again manage to Explain It All to us at the end of the adventure had just risen to nearly a certainty.
The Priori Incantatum that those particular echoes were generated by was based upon the fact that Harry and Tom happened to be using brother wands and had cast spells at one another at the very same time. This is a peculiarity about wands and wand cores which would apply to only a very few cases where one wizard attempts to duel with another. Although the phenomenon has probably been known for centuries.
But Priori Incantatum is also a spell, as well as an effect. Amos Diggory had used it to replay the casting of the Dark mark from Harry’s wand all the way back in the disturbance during the World Cup. And a spell can be deployed at any time, by anyone who knows it.
So, just maybe the fans who have been insisting that Albus would not ever agree to become a ghost are absolutely right.
He might, however, very well have planned to leave an echo.
Which would — right there — put paid to any suggestion that whatever took place on top of the tower was in even the least degree accidental, or a result of a failure of communication. As well as dismissing the suggestion that he and Snape would have been willing to permit anyone BUT Snape to be the one to kill him. Or that Albus should have been allowed to die by any means other than the AK curse. Poisoning would not generate such an echo. Neither would whatever curse on the Ring had blasted his hand.
To invoke an echo, you need to replay a spell that kills.
And in order to have Albus’s echo Explain It All to us dictates the necessity for Snape, or at any rate, for the wand he used, to survive to the end of the adventure.
Echoes of the dead are something that we have not yet had explained to us in any kind of detail in canon, and Rowling very carefully defined them in what now sounds like a deliberately dismissive manner back when the fans were trying to convince themselves that Harry had somehow seen the ghosts of his parents in the graveyard of Little Hangleton.
But there is still a lot that we do not know about the matters concerning wand echoes, or, come to that, Priori Incantatum itself.
For starters: how often can a Priori Incantatum be used to retrieve the echo of a specific spell?
Which raises the rather interesting question of; if Snape used a spare wand to kill Albus, and has set it aside so the AK will not be buried in a year’s additional spells, is he now, in effect, carrying Albus’s echo around like a genie in a bottle?