The Boy Who Lived

I have to confess that I really love Chapter 1. I think last time I wrote about it, I may have said it reminded me in tone a bit of Tolkien’s opening to The Hobbit.

Actually, yes, I did.

In looking back, it appears that I wrote four consecutive blog posts about just this one chapter. In addition to the Hobbit comparison, I discussed the overwhelming presence of owls, drew up a  Chapter map (complete with explanation), and wrote another whole long post about Albus Dumbledore and sundry other issues. I really went “into the weeds” with this chapter seven years ago!

But in fairness, this brief introductory chapter accomplishes a lot. It sets up the conflict between the Dursleys and Harry and the recent and future conflicts between Harry and Voldemort, shows the secret world of the Wizards and its fear of being found out, introduces part of our main cast of Wizards, and hints at the recent war with Voldemort.

It’s a writing tour de force, and in it J.K. Rowling announces her presence on the literary stage.

The Power Dynamic

In terms of our broader themes, this chapter sets up various versions of power. We don’t know yet how it’s all going to play out, but we can clearly identify four power centers in the chapter:

Vernon Dursley – Vernon is a non-magical person who abuses power and people and gets “enraged” at anything that deviates from his conception of social norms (such as older people wearing weird attire). Yelling “at five different people” at work in the morning puts him in “a very good mood.” Yet after hearing rumors about the Potters from the “weirdos,” he shrinks into worry and insecurity. With just these small character details, Rowling establishes Vernon as an abuser who will soon be placed in the position of having to foster his “weirdo” nephew (Hint: This will not go well),  but she also establishes him as something of a paper tiger. Just put some pressure on him and watch him crumple.

Voldemort (a.k.a. “You-Know-Who”) – We don’t really meet Voldemort here, just hear about him. But from the conversation between Professor McGonagall and Albus Dumbledore, we find he is a magical person whom Wizards have feared for the past eleven years – feared so much that only Dumbledore will say his name. In fact, Voldemort murdered Harry’s parents the night before… and even tried to kill the boy. On a first read, this is where it gets confusing, because apparently trying to kill the boy made him disappear. Before the night he disappeared, Voldemort clearly possessed astounding powers, but used them to evil purpose. As the story progresses and he finds a way to return, his ill intent will thwart him over and over again. It’s almost like Rowling is saying that “power is not enough.” (Hint: It’s not!).

Albus Dumbledore – Dumbledore is, in many ways, the antithesis of Vernon Dursley and even moreso of Voldemort. He’s an older man, dressed weirdly, yet Professor McGonagall (who can transform herself from a cat into a human being!) defers to him. He speaks gently, consolingly, and with a certain amount of wisdom. He’s also a bit naive. He thinks that if he just explains the situation to the Dursleys in a letter, they will accept Harry and eventually tell him who he is. In addition, Dumbledore has a bit of humility, as we can see from this snippet of dialogue:

“But you’re different” [said Professor McGonagall]. Everyone knows you’re the only one You-Know-Who – oh, all right, Voldemort, was frightened of.”

“You flatter me,” said Dumbledore calmly. “Voldemort had  powers I will never have.”

“Only because you’re too – well – noble to use them.”

McGonagall here effectively establishes Dumbledore as a man whose powers rival Voldemort’s but who restrains himself from using the more ignoble types of power. We will (much) later learn exactly why Dumbledore restrains himself, but for now, it’s simply worth noting that in the first chapter Rowling subtly establishes the possibility that life could have gone much differently for Albus Dumbledore had he just seized all the power he was capable of wielding. Instead, he has chosen a different path and consequently introduces us and the Dursleys to Harry.

Harry Potter – He’s just a baby, but he inexplicably broke Voldemort’s power just the night before. The implication here is that Harry has amazing powers of his own (we will later discover the extent to which this is true), and McGonagall argues that Dumbledore should not give him up to the Dursleys because…

“He’ll be famous – a legend – I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter Day in the future – there will be books written about Harry – every child in our world will know his name!”

Dumbledore wisely replies that anonymity with the Dursleys will be better for Harry until “he’s ready to take” the fame thrust on him by the Wizarding World.

Dumbledore is right on the face of it. He’s just missing one major detail: the Dursleys are not the people he hopes they will be. And then he leaves Harry on the doorstep to face his unwilling aunt and uncle.

Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken in a few hours’ time by Mrs. Dursley’s scream as she opened the front door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley. . . . He couldn’t know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: “To Harry Potter – the boy who lived!”

It is a powerful conclusion to a magnificent opening chapter.

Fantastic Beasts and the Glaring Red Herring (spoilers!!!)

When the news first hit that JKR was writing a screenplay based on Newt Scamander’s travels in search of magical creatures, I was like, “Okay. Not exactly the project I would have picked, but I’ll check it out.”

I did scrunch up my face just a bit, though, when Rowling later started pushing Fantastic Beasts as the dawning of the “Age of Hufflepuff.” Not that I have anything against Hufflepuff. My sister is one. So is Newt Scamander. But as a Slytherin with a vested interest in the Slytherin/Gryffindor dichotomy, I did kind of think: “Boring!”

Meanwhile, Rowling did do one of the projects I would have picked – the adventures of Albus Severus Potter. I know a lot of people were put off by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It got labeled “glorified fanfiction,” and even “non-canonical” (though I’m not sure how you can support the “non-canonical” notion when no less an authority than Pottermore called it the official 8th Harry Potter story, and the play’s own website terms it “the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage.” That seems pretty definitively canonical to me).

Potter fans were concerned with the play’s alt-timeline depictions of our favorite HP characters. (My response: These were ALT-timelines! Not a problem that the characters are different!). And fans were of course concerned about the play drawing on some classic fanfic tropes. But most of those tropes were in the Alt-Timelines, which is actually kind of clever when you think about it… kind of like in that Sherlock episode that brings in the fanfic as a plot device.

I suspect, though, that there is an unstated issue behind a lot of the concerns – i.e., that the play demonstrated conclusively that Slytherin isn’t all dark wizards and power hungry freaks. Instead, the play gave us an Albus Potter sorted into Slytherin, making besties with (a completely freakin’ awesome) Scorpius Malfoy, and even allowing a malevolent Slytherin prat like Draco to grow up into a fairly decent adult. That’s bound to cause some consternation.

So I’ve got a theory about these projects, and it goes like this: They were part of an elaborate Fake-Out. A Distraction. A Misdirection. A Real-World Red Herring. JKR was playing us, just like she played us with Snape.

No, I’m not saying that JKR was not committed to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child independent of Fantastic Beasts. I’m sure she was. And I’m not saying that Newt Scamander and friends are nothing but misdirection. I strongly suspect that our main cast from Fantastic Beasts will play a crucial role in the wars to come.

At the same time, though, the timing of the play and the film’s focus on Newt both work really well as a blind for what JKR was really up to the whole time  –  developing a story that fans have craved since the release of Deathly Hallows… the oldest core-character tragedy in the HP universe, hidden in the background of the first 6 HP books and brought into the light only in the 7th.

J.K. Rowling was bringing us Dumbledore vs. Grindelwald. And she hid that project in plain sight all the way through the first hour of Fantastic Beasts.

Why?

Well, can you imagine audience expectations going in to Fantastic Beasts if we’d known for the past two or so years that the movie was really setting us up for 1945 and the greatest Wizard Battle of all time? We would have had entire websites devoted to the shooting of the first film, possibly with drones videotaping any elements that fans could get near. We would have seen every bit of the same madness we see each year between seasons of Game of Thrones.

Instead, by hiding Dumbledore vs. Grindelwald behind the Fantastic Beasts front and distracting us with The Cursed Child, JKR could lower the temperature, allow the film to develop in peace, and then surprise and delight fans with this fantastic gift.

And Fantastic Beasts is a fantastic gift.

Here are a few of my first impressions. (I’ll go into more depth when I’ve had a chance to see the film a second time):

I had my eye on the Colin Farrell character from the first time I saw the trailers. He just had that “bad guy” vibe.

From the moment I saw the Grindelwald headlines at the beginning of the film, I kept a very close eye on the Colin Farrell character. I assumed from the start that the headlines were meant to put the audience on alert that Grindelwald could actually play a role in the film. (I hadn’t paid much attention to the Grindelwald/Dumbledore rumors, so I did not actually walk in to the theater with that expectation).

I found the opening hour of the film entertaining enough, and I certainly enjoyed being back in the Wizarding World, but I was finding the plot a bit thin. The sheer creepiness of the New Salem Philanthropic Society added an interesting flavor to the story, but it took the unveiling of the actual threat to get me fully engaged…

The Obscurial. As soon as Newt Scamander started talking about the Obscurus and the Obscurial, the alarms went off. I know the insight I had in that moment was not unique because – from what I can tell – nearly every fan who has seriously read and discussed the books had pretty much the same insight. It went something like this: “Graves is Grindelwald. Graves is looking for an Obscurial so he can use the Obscurus to gain power. An Obscurial is a magic-suppressing child preyed upon by an Obscurus. Grindelwald has seen such a child before. OMG!!! This is all about Arianna!”

And that brings us back to that intriguing moment from the trailer, when Graves (Grindelwald) wondered why (his former friend) Albus Dumbledore was “so fond of” Newt Scamander.

I think I might know. If, by chance, Newt’s interest in helping Obscurial children dated all the way back to Hogwarts, that would certainly endear him to Dumbledore – whether Arianna was technically an Obscurial or not (and I think this movie hints that she was). Whatever the case, though, we can infer that Dumbledore revealed nothing of his own family tragedy, given that Newt believes that the oldest Obscurial lived to age 10. Arianna was 14 (and Credence older still).

I’ll wrap this up with one thought: The aftermath of the first Grindelwald/Dumbledore duel in Godric’s Hollow – the duel that resulted in Arianna’s death –  provides a stark contrast between the two former friends.

Gellert Grindelwald saw the kind of power Arianna wielded and only wanted to harness it for his own benefit.

Albus Dumbledore never forgave himself for Arianna’s death, relinquished his desire for political power, and trained up wizards to fight against the darkness manifest in wizards like his friend.

This is the story behind Fantastic Beasts. And we are going to get to see it unfold!

 

The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore

“Don’t be a fool,” snarled the face. “Better save your own life and join me… or you’ll meet the same end as your parents…. “They died begging me for mercy….”

“LIAR!” Harry shouted suddenly.

Quirrell was walking backward at him, so that Voldemort could still see him. The evil face was now smiling.

“How touching…” it hissed. “I always value bravery…. Yes, boy, your parents were brave…. I killed your father first, and he put up a courageous fight… but your mother needn’t have died… she was trying to protect you…. Now give me the Stone, unless you want her to have died in vain.”

“NEVER!”

We expect the lie from Voldemort, just as we expect defiance from Harry. Voldemort lies in claiming…

  • That Harry’s parents died begging for mercy
  • That he values bravery
  • That Harry’s father put up a courageous fight

In actuality, Harry’s father rushed at Voldemort without a wand in his hand, Voldemort cast the curse, and…

James Potter fell like a marionette whose strings were cut….”

That’s it.

In context, fear has failed to motivate Harry to give Voldemort what he wants, so Voldemort reverts to flattery, reciting the key Gryffindor quality of bravery. And no doubt, James Potter bravely rushed at the Dark Lord. But put up a courageous fight? There was no fight.

Voldemort’s lie about Harry’s father, however, is ultimately less destructive than Albus Dumbledore’s. Once the Stone has been saved, Dumbledore promises Harry to answer whatever questions he can… without, of course, lying. But when Harry asks if it’s true that Snape hates him because he hated his father, Dumbledore replies:

“Well, they did rather detest each other. Not unlike yourself and Mr. Malfoy. And then, your father did something Snape could never forgive.”

“What?”

“He saved his life.”

That’s not exactly true. James Potter got cold feet on a Marauders prank that would have gotten Severus killed, and James intervened to stop it.

But Severus never believed that James’ primary intention was to save his life. He believed that James’ intent was merely to save himself and the other Marauders from getting expelled.
(And when we see what James did to Severus shortly afterward in the SWM, who can blame Severus for denying James any benevolent intent?)

But the question of James’ intent is not at the core of Dumbledore’s lie. It’s in his claim that Snape, in essence, was angry over owing James a life debt – a life debt that Severus never believed he owed. In framing Snape’s hatred in those terms, Dumbledore glosses over the true source of Snape’s fury: severe, public humiliation and abuse in SWM (what I would call a form of gang rape, frankly). And then, the worst of all possible humiliations: James winning Lily’s hand.

Yes, I know why Dumbledore might feel compelled to lie on this matter. Snape swore him to secrecy, admonishing Dumbledore never to reveal his [Snape’s] motives for protecting Harry – and putting Dumbledore in a bit of a bind. So it’s possible that Dumbledore invents an alternate scenario to explain Snape’s protection (i.e., attempting to retire the life debt) while at the same time honoring his word to Severus.

But the lie doesn’t help. It doesn’t really explain anything about Severus’ antipathy toward James to Harry. It merely helps to escalate the tension between Harry and Snape. And a couple of years later, Harry uses the lie when he throws his father’s life-saving “courage” right back in Snape’s face.

So my question is: How conscious is Dumbledore that he’s telling a lie? Has he, like Harry, created some ideal “James” in his head? Or is he deliberately misleading Harry in order to protect Severus’ secret? Or what?

I await your comments.

The Unbreakable Mirror

He saw his reflection, pale and scared-looking at first. But a moment later, the reflection smiled at him. It put its hand into its pocket and pulled out a blood-red stone. It winked and put the Stone back in its pocket – and as it did so, Harry felt something heavy drop into his real pocket. Somehow – incredibly – he’d gotten the Stone.

The Dumbledore challenge is what everybody wants to talk about… even when we’re talking about the Heads of House! And wouldn’t you know I’d get to everybody’s favorite challenge just as my schedule goes into total meltdown?

I’m finishing a Math class. I’m starting up my own classes. I’ve been writing Syllabi, getting administrative stuff taken care of, and now I get to launch in to 1st week lesson plans. But I won’t completely abandon you!

We’ve talked in the Comments to previous posts about just how insurmountable Dumbledore’s Mirror enchantment is. I personally find it amusing to read Quirrell’s perplexity, and ultimately his mounting panic, as he begins to realize how far he is out of his depth.

He starts the challenge overconfident:

“The mirror is the key to finding the Stone,” Quirrell murmured, tapping his way around the frame. “Trust Dumbledore to come up with something like this… but he’s in London… I’ll be far away by the time he gets back….”

Then, he gets trapped by the very nature of the mirror itself:

Quirrell came back out from behind the mirror and stared hungrily into it.

“I see the Stone… I’m presenting it to my master… but where is it?”

Then he gets frustrated…

Quirrell cursed under his breath.

“I don’t understand… is the Stone inside the mirror? Should I break it?”

And finally…

“What does this mirror do? How does it work? Help me, Master!”

But Voldemort can’t help because he doesn’t know the answer any more than Quirrell does. All he can reply is:

“Use the boy… Use the boy…”

Note that Dumbledore entrusted an 11-year-old boy with the secret of the mirror… but did not similarly entrust one of his own staff. We learn later (as in TPT later) that Dumbledore had suspected Quirrell before the Halloween Feast. And we also learn (in TPT) that Dumbledore and Snape protected Harry for the purpose of allowing him to test his own strength.

What’s curious is that, wrong as Harry can be about Snape, he has a pretty good read on Dumbledore:

“He’s a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he sort of wanted to give me a chance. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know. I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help. I don’t think it was an accident he let me find out how the mirror worked. It’s almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could…”

Harry intuitively has a sense of what Dumbledore is up to, even before knowing the details of why.

Unbreakable

So what is it about this challenge that turns the Mirror of Erised into an unbeatable protection? Dumbledore’s enchantment did not change the nature of the Mirror. The Mirror still shows the individual what he most desperately desires. But Dumbledore also placed an enchantment on the Mirror that would make it impossible to retrieve the Stone if the Stone were the ultimate object of desire:

“You see, only one who wanted to find the Stone – find it, but not use it – would be able to get it, otherwise they’d just see themselves making gold or drinking Elixir of Life.”

Dumbledore’s enchantment seems tailor-made for Harry – for someone who would only want to find the Stone in order to prevent its falling into the wrong hands. But the beauty of using the Mirror for this purpose is that the Mirror itself could drive greedy people like Quirrell insane with desire. Add to that an utter inability to attain the object of desire, and you get a sense of the depth of Dumbledore’s enchantment.

One of the commenters on the Snape task mentioned that the Logic Puzzle coldly leaves the unsuccessful individual dead or locked in that chamber forever. Well, Dumbledore just upped the stakes. In his challenge, the individual can get trapped in that chamber forever… and trapped with a Mirror that has the potential to drive him insane.

But enough from me. I’d like to hear your comments. What does this task tell us about Dumbledore?

Harry Potter and the Invisible Man

Something fluid and silvery gray went slithering to the floor where it lay in gleaming folds. Ron gasped.

“I’ve heard of those,” he said in a hushed voice, dropping the box of Every Flavor Beans he’d gotten from Hermione. “If that’s what I think it is – They’re really rare, and really valuable.”

“What is it?”

Harry picked the shining, silvery cloth off the floor. It was strange to the touch, like water woven into material.

“It’s an invisibility cloak,” said Ron, a look of awe on his face. “I’m sure it is – try it on.”

The great thing with the Harry Potter series is that the title formula makes it very easy to write bizarro-scenario titles like the one I just wrote. (And if anybody wants to use “Harry Potter and the Invisible Man” for a fanfic, be my guest!)

Even though the Dursleys often treat Harry as if he’s invisible (and even though Severus Snape pretends he’s invisible after Harry witnesses a memory of his father humiliating Snape), Harry Potter never actually does not meet up with a literal Invisible Man in the course of JKR’s series. However, he does acquire an object that gives him invisibility at will. And there are “invisible” men willing to stay in the background as Harry moves to the foreground in the war against Voldemort.

Remember way back in January? We talked in one of the first re-read posts about the comparison between Harry and Cinderella. As a Cinderella figure, Harry has never really experienced a proper Christmas since his parents were killed. And his first Christmas at Hogwarts begins to set things right.

But a little backtracking is in order. When the Trio concludes that Snape tried to kill Harry during the Gryffindor-Slytherin Quidditch match, Hagrid accidentally lets it slip that what Fluffy is guarding is a matter “between Professor Dumbledore an’ Nicolas Flamel.” Naturally, the Trio becomes obsessed with finding out more about Flamel – setting up Harry’s first adventure with the Invisibility Cloak.

In fact, it should be noted that before that adventure, the Trio spends considerable time in the Hogwarts Library looking for Flamel… in all the wrong places. Harry even goes into the Restricted Section, and gets shooed out of the Library entirely by Madam Pince, the Hogwarts Librarian. Whatever possesses them to assume that Flamel is famous, I don’t know. But he is, and they do.

Before we get to Harry’s first Cloak adventure, however, let’s talk more about his first real experience of Christmas and his acquisition of the Cloak.

On Christmas Eve (six years to the day before his nearly fatal visit to his birthplace of Godric’s Hollow), Harry goes “to bed looking forward to the next day for the food and the fun, but not expecting any presents at all.” Instead, when he wakes up in the morning, he is stunned to find that he has a small stack of presents at the foot of his bed.

“Will you look at this?” [Harry exclaims] “I’ve got some presents!”

“What did you expect, turnips?” said Ron.

As it turns out, Harry gets a hand-carved flute from Hagrid, a 50-pence piece from the Dursleys (from which we learn that Muggle money fascinates Ron), a Weasley sweater from Molly Weasley (signaling the beginning of his unofficial adoption into the Weasley family), a box of Chocolate Frogs from Hermione, and the Invisibility Cloak. The Cloak comes with a mysterious note, written in a “narrow, loopy” hand:

Your father left this in my possession before he died. It is time it was returned to you. Use it well.

A Very Merry Christmas to you.

Since this is a re-read, I am going to assume that we all know that the note is from Albus Dumbledore and that it is his first direct outreach to Harry since Harry arrived at Hogwarts.

The Cloak not only belonged to Harry’s father, but his father inherited it from one of his parents… going all the way back to his ancestor Ignotus Peverell, with whom the Cloak originates, and who is buried not far from Harry’s parents in the graveyard at Godric’s Hollow.

Through Ignotus Peverell, Harry is distantly related to Voldemort (a direct descendent of Ignotus’ older brother Cadmus Peverell, who possessed the Resurrection Stone). The oldest brother, Antioch Peverell, possessed the Elder Wand – which is currently in the possession of Albus Dumbledore.

The reason I have mentioned the Cloak’s background is that I’d like to draw attention to something rather remarkable – the fact that Albus Dumbledore actually returns the Cloak to Harry, even though legend claims that the person who unites the three Hallows will become the Master of Death.

For 10 years, Dumbledore has held two of the Hallows in his possession. But rather than seek out the final Hallow, he instead relinquishes the Hallow that rightfully belongs to another. He could have kept it, and Harry would have been none the wiser. But Dumbledore allows himself to be merely the custodian of the Cloak until he can safely pass it on to Harry, its rightful owner.

Such an action would be remarkable for any Wizard who made a study of the Hallows. It is even more remarkable for Dumbledore, whose youthful fantasies specifically involved uniting the Hallows to create a world ruled by Wizards… or more specifically, by himself and Gellert Grindelwald. Returning the Cloak to Harry shows the  extent to which Dumbledore has turned his back on his past failings.

Though Dumbledore is later fatally tempted by the Resurrection Stone, it’s not through an attempt to unite the Hallows. It’s just a moment of weakness in which he succumbs to the temptation to bring back his dead sister (a point that is indirectly related to the second part of this chapter).

Regardless of Dumledore’s failings, returning the Cloak to Harry shows significant character growth since his sister’s death. In a very real sense, Dumbledore is one “invisible man” in this post’s title – a man willing to remain anonymous, willing to guide Harry from the background, willing to let the boy ultimately move into the spotlight.

Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!

Albus Dumbledore had gotten to his feet. He was beaming at the students, his arms opened wide, as if nothing could have pleased him more than to see them all there.

“Welcome!” he said, “Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!”

You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to write that!

“Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” is perhaps my favorite line in all seven books (and people say Snape gets all the good lines!). An entire essay is devoted to these words at The Hogwarts Professor. An essay is devoted to them at The Leaky Cauldron. Multiple threads are devoted to them on the Chamber of Secrets Forums. But of course, nobody is closer to knowing today what he meant by those words than they did in 1997 when the book was published.

And I do not intend to try my hand at interpreting them! I just wish to celebrate the strangeness that is Albus Dumbledore (okay, and maybe analyze him a little too)… as did students at the Welcoming Feast of 1991:

He sat back down. Everybody clapped and cheered. Harry didn’t know whether to laugh or not.

“Is he – a bit mad?” he asked Percy uncertainly.

“Mad?” said Percy airily. “He’s a genius! Best wizard in the world! But he is a bit mad, yes. Potatoes, Harry?”

We have met Dumbledore only briefly before, when he laid Harry at the Dursley’s doorstep. We met his accomplishments in passing when Harry opened the card in the Chocolate Frog. But now, we meet Albus Dumbledore in his element – at Hogwarts, where he serves as Headmaster of this venerable institution.

And we immediately learn that he’s perhaps a bit more eccentric than just lemon drop would indicate! Later during the Feast, that point is reinforced by his mode of conducting the school song. Dumbledore instructs the students to pick any melody they wish, and then he conducts a presumed cacaphony of melodies on the single set of words.

Nobody reading this scene for the first time is going to see any significance in the wand he’s using to conduct the school song. But the wand does have significance. It is presumably the wand that Dumbledore mastered in 1945 when he defeated Gellert Grindelwald. It is the Elder Wand, the Death Stick, the first of the Deathly Hallows.

At this point in Dumbledore’s story, we know next to nothing of his past – and we will know next to nothing of it until the final book. But there was a time in Dumbledore’s life when he sought the Hallows with Gellert Grindelwald, in order to create Wizard dominance over Muggles “for the greater good.” He has spent his life training up wizards as a sort of penance for his short, but catastrophic, trip into the Dark Arts.

In the small piece of fiction that I recently wrote for the Elder Wand contest (I won’t belabor you with the link yet again!), I imagined what might have been going through Dumbledore’s mind as he conducted the school song with this extremely powerful and often murderous wand:

The Elder Wand! If only Gellert could see it – really see his “Deathstick” – conduct a room of schoolchildren in song! The incongruous image alone was sufficient for Albus to continue the practice, no matter how disapproving the fixed stares of Minerva and Severus. Using the Wand for such mundane, even eccentric, pursuits helped diminish its power, especially over him, and render the dormant cancer benign.

And it had been a cancer, the consuming desire for power and Hallows, that had gripped him during Gellert’s summer in Godric’s Hollow. His friend’s rise, his pursuit of the Wand, his murderous reign – all of it had started there, with Albus at his side.

Before writing the story, I hadn’t really given much thought to the school song (and even less to the wand Dumbledore uses to conduct it). I just thought that the scene was very funny. But in the “King’s Cross” chapter of DH, Dumbledore tells Harry that he was allowed to “tame” the Elder Wand. In fleshing out the scenario for the story, it occurred to me that one of the ways in which Dumbledore “tamed” the wand was by putting it to such incongruous uses as this. It is a far cry from a “Death Stick” to a conductor’s baton.

I have no doubt that in many ways, Albus Dumbledore was a highly eccentric man. But much of the eccentricity seems cultivated, a front to hide his more strategic, calculating inner self. At the same time, I consider him an essentially benevolent and deeply good man… despite being a ruthless wartime general.

Snowmageddon, Severus, and the “Betrayal” of Snape

Well, I’m back. We did have to put Rusty down yesterday. To celebrate his life, we will be looking for a pair of (boy and girl) kittens to name Severus and Minerva. Don’t worry, though. They won’t be treacly Umbridge kittens!

I’m still not quite up for a bit of “Flight of the Dursley’s” slapstick, but I am starting to recover enough from the Rusty trauma to write about Severus Snape. First, though, check out some pictures – from my house – of this weekend’s DC area Snowpocalypse (click for full-size):

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And now, for some gratuitous Snapey goodness!

Did Severus Snape Betray the Order of the Phoenix?

If you have read this blog before, I’m sure you already know my answer to this question. However, I have recently encountered an argument insisting that since Snape was not reporting to any living member of the Order, the information he passed to Voldemort in “Dark Lord Ascending” was an act of betrayal. Never mind that he was taking orders from Dumbledore’s portrait. To say I was gobsmacked would be an understatement.

Here is the Snape-Betrayal argument, along with my response.

Snape-Betrayal Point 1:

Neither Snape nor Dumbledore’s Portrait is working with or for the Order. Therefore giving information to Voldemort without informing living members of the Order is an act of betrayal.

My response:

  • Headmasters’ portraits have the imprint of the deceased Headmaster’s thoughts and memories.
  • The purpose of the portraits is to provide counsel to future Headmasters, from the “voice” of the deceased Headmaster. They occasionally provide counsel to others.
  • Harry regards Dumbledore’s portrait as having the same authority of wisdom as Dumbledore himself, as we see in Harry’s visits to the Headmaster’s office at the end of DH.
  • Dumbledore founded the Order of the Phoenix, and the Order would not have existed in either war without Dumbledore’s initiative.
  • Snape’s job was to serve as a spy, and Dumbledore was a brilliant Spymaster and wartime Strategist.
  • Both Snape and Dumbledore were accomplished in the arts of Occlumency and Legilimency.
  • There is no evidence in the text indicating that anybody else in the Order is an accomplished Occlumens, Legilimens, Spymaster, or Strategist. Failure in any of these areas would almost certainly have proven catastrophic for the anti-Voldemort forces.
  • Given that the portrait is the imprint of the Headmaster’s thoughts and memories, it is clear that Dumbledore planned before his death to continue to serve as Spymaster for Severus Snape on behalf of the Order of the Phoenix.

Essentially, Dumbledore founded the Order, he clearly planned to continue his work for the Order after death, and it is crucial that he keep his plans secret from the other members of the Order unless there is some other unknown member of the Order who is an accomplished enough Occlumens to withstand a session of Legilimency with Voldemort. (Since there is zero evidence that such an Order member exists, my assumption is that there is no such member).

In other words, Snape is working for the Order in a top secret role. While this would not be possible in the Muggle world, Headmasters’ portraits make it possible in the Wizarding World.

Additionally, if we assume that Severus Snape was wrong to follow orders from a portrait with regard to the Battle over Little Whinging, then we should also assume that he was wrong to get the Sword of Gryffindor to Harry in the Forest of Dean – on the word of two Headmasters’ portraits. And yet, if he had failed to get the sword to Harry at that time, what would the outcome have been with the locket Horcrux? It was already destroying the trio. It is quite likely that Voldemort would have triumphed in the end without Harry receiving the sword at that specific time.

Snape-Betrayal Point 2:

Since Dumbledore is dead, Snape is not working for the Order. He’s only working for (dead) Dumbledore and is not really a double agent.

My Response:

See above. Also, this is clearly not how Harry sees it once he has seen the memories. The portrait is conveying the overall game plan Dumbledore hatched before his death, while he was leader of the Order. Harry regards Snape in retrospect as working for the Order, not independently of it and not against it.

Snape-Betrayal Point 3:

The only purpose for Snape giving the information to Voldemort was to get himself in good with Voldemort, not to protect the Order or Harry.

My Response:

Actually, that’s exactly what spies do in order to protect those they are protecting. It is a pretend betrayal and the entire purpose is to protect Harry and help defeat Voldemort, over the longterm.

Actually, this entire scenario is parallel to the work of a British double agent during WWII with regard to D-Day. He was told to give the Germans real information that they in turn would not be able to use effectively, in order to establish the credentials of the double agent with the Germans – just as the 7 Potters tactic that Snape passes on to the Order similarly prevents Voldemort from using Snape’s real information effectively but helps establish Snape’s bona fides as a Death Eater.

Snape-Betrayal Point 4:

Dumbledore and Snape had a different agenda than the Order, and it involved callously using the lives of Order members as canon fodder. Dumbledore and Snape should have communicated their plans to the Order and coordinated with the Order.

My Response:

Well canon fodder, sorry, is part of war. This is what war commanders do, and Dumbledore clearly hatched his general game plan while he was indisputably war commander for the anti-Voldemort side. Unfortunately, every member of the Order is expendable if it means the success of the war effort – even Dumbledore and Snape.

And why should Dumbledore and Snape have set up any plans to communicate and coordinate with members of the Order? Spy work is always kept secret. Snape’s mission was too sensitive to reveal to other members of the Order – short of the Order possessing another accomplished Occlumens, Spymaster and Strategist. It was strategically crucial that he appear to be Voldemort’s man. It was strategically crucial that nobody know this because otherwise the secret could have been betrayed, even unwillingly, by somebody who could not stand up to Voldemort’s Legilimency – basically, I think, any other member of the Order.

Snape’s action, in my opinion, is no betrayal. It is crucial for defeating Voldemort in the long strategy.

Okay, short of some new catastrophe beyond the Snowpocalypse, I will finally be back this week with “The Flight of the Dursleys.”