The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore
Chapter 18 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore
The next morning, Harry is still mourning his lost wand. Without it he feels weak, vulnerable, and stripped naked, as if his magical power died with it. He tucks the broken halves, barely held together by the damaged Phoenix feather, into the Mokeskin pouch around his neck. The Snitch is also inside, and Harry is momentarily tempted to toss it, believing it is as useless as everything else Dumbledore left behind. His fury at Dumbledore is unleashed. In desperation they had gone to Godric's Hollow, believing it held answers and would lead to some secret path laid out by Dumbledore. Instead, they were left groping blindly, without a plan or a map, and it nearly took their lives. Now Harry is without a wand, without the Sword, and the dropped thief's photo has given Voldemort vital information.
Still upset, Hermione timidly brings Harry tea and shows him Rita Skeeter's book, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore that she took from Bathilda Bagshot's house. A note sticking out reads: Dear Batty, Thanks for your help. Here's a copy of the book, hope you like it. You said everything, even if you don't remember it. Rita
Harry assures Hermione that he is not angry about his wand, it was only an accident, and he is grateful to her for saving his life. As he rifles through the book, Harry feels perverse pleasure—now he will know Dumbledore's secrets. Harry sees photos of a young Dumbledore and the handsome companion he recognizes as the thief in Gregorovitch's memory. The caption reads: Albus Dumbledore, shortly after his mother's death, with his friend Gellert Grindelwald.
Harry and Hermione exchange incredulous looks—Grindelwald! A chapter titled "The Greater Good", reveals that Dumbledore graduated Hogwarts with many honors and accolades. He and his friend, Elphias Doge cancelled a Grand Tour of Europe after Kendra Dumbledore's sudden death. Although Doge had claimed that Dumbledore made a grand sacrifice to care for his family, the book implies otherwise, quoting several Godric's Hollow citizens. Enid Smeek recounts that Albus did little to curtail his brother Aberforth's wild behavior and kept his sister, Ariana, hidden away. Although the Dumbledores remained reclusive, Bathilda Bagshot reportedly established a friendship with the family. Skeeter claims that while Bathilda's memory may have been affected by age, she was able to extract enough facts to piece together the scandalous story of Kendra's death, which was passed off as a spell backfiring. She also debunks Ariana being sickly and claims Albus had an affinity for the Dark Arts and may have supported Muggle oppression.
The same summer Albus returned to care for the family, Bathilda Bagshot took in her great-nephew, Gellert Grindelwald, a student as brilliant as Dumbledore, who was expelled from Durmstrang. He later became a notorious Dark wizard, though he was relatively unknown in Britain. He and Albus quickly bonded. In a letter to Gellert, Dumbledore writes that he agrees Wizard dominance over Muggles is for the greater good, but they must rule responsibly and only use force when necessary. He believes that was Gellert's mistake at Durmstrang, although he says that if Gellert had not been expelled, then they would never have met. Rita states that this letter proves that Albus Dumbledore once intended to overthrow the Statute of Secrecy and establish wizard rule over Muggles. It contradicts his later stance supporting Muggle-born witches and wizards and protecting Muggles' rights.
But barely two months after their friendship began, Dumbledore and Grindelwald parted ways until their legendary duel. Bathilda Bagshot believed the rift involved Ariana's death. Gellert was present when it happened, and he came home distressed, leaving by Portkey the next day. Aberforth blamed Albus, and they came to blows at the funeral. It was never understood why Aberforth blamed Albus for Ariana's death, though it is speculated that it was related to Albus' friendship with Gellert, who had been expelled from Durmstrang for near-fatal attacks on fellow students.
Gellert went on, some decades later, to head a reign of terror on the continent, eventually becoming the most feared Dark wizard in history at the time. Five years after Grindelwald's assumption of power, Dumbledore finally succumbed to the Wizarding world's pleas to end his vicious rampage in Europe. Questions lingered after Grindelwald's defeat, however. Was it Albus' affection for Grindelwald that delayed his taking action? How and why did Ariana die? Was it an accident or the first attempt at implementing their "Greater Good" plan?
The chapter ends here, and Harry is stunned as he endures yet another loss: Ron, his Phoenix wand, and now his unwavering trust in Dumbledore, who once embodied nothing but goodness and wisdom. Hermione reminds him that Rita Skeeter is the author, but Harry points out Dumbledore's own words in his letter to Grindelwald. Hermione believes that Grindelwald's slogan, "For the Greater Good", probably stemmed from Dumbledore's ideas and became Grindelwald's justification for his atrocities. Those words were reportedly carved over the entrance to "Nurmengard", the prison that held Grindelwald's enemies. Hermione attributes Dumbledore's actions to his youth and losing his family, though Harry counters that they are the same age as he was, and are fighting Dark Arts, not championing them. Harry also points out that Albus had a brother and he kept his Squib sister locked up. Hermione doubts Ariana was a Squib, and insists the Dumbledore they knew would never have allowed Muggle oppression; whatever he believed at seventeen, he chose a different path as an adult and spent his remaining life fighting evil. Hermione surmises Harry is really angry because Dumbledore never revealed this about himself, which Harry acknowledges may be true. But he wonders how Dumbledore could have left him in such a mess, and if he ever really cared about him.
Not only was Godric's Hollow nearly fatal, but Harry and Hermione believe it was a useless dead-end, and Harry is angrier than ever with Dumbledore for having provided so little information for his quest. It is unclear if Dumbledore ever intended for them to go to Godric’s Hollow, but he must have surmised that Harry would visit his birthplace and would suspect information could be hidden there, though Dumbledore may have considered it too risky and obvious a place to secrete clues. Despite their miscalculation, the trip actually proves somewhat productive. As noted, Harry and Hermione come across the odd symbol on an old gravestone that is identical to the symbol inked into The Tales of Beedle the Bard, the book Dumbledore bequeathed to Hermione and the same as the one Xenophilius Lovegood wore at the wedding. Given Viktor Krum's strong reaction to seeing Lovegood wearing it, it would appear that this emblem may have some particularly important, and possibly Dark, meaning attached to it. The symbol's unknown relationship to "Ignotus", the name on the gravestone, is also likely to be significant. Dumbledore may have intended for Harry to find the symbol here, lending further proof to its importance.
Also, Hermione obtains Rita Skeeter's book, which provides valuable information about Dumbledore's past and his previously unknown association with the notorious Dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald, who he eventually defeated in a duel. It should be noted that Grindelwald's rise to power on the Continent seems to have occurred during the Second World War, 1939 - 1945, while other evidence in the series dates the friendship of Grindelwald and Dumbledore to 1899. Grindelwald's photo in Bathilda's house also ties him to her and Godric's Hollow. Harry also confronts his own past in Godric's Hollow, and visiting his former home and his parents' graves provides some closure to this sad chapter in his life and will hopefully allow him eventually to move forward emotionally.
Once again, Harry is deeply disappointed by someone he loved and admired. Before, James, Sirius, and Lupin, had, in Harry's opinion, failed in some way. Now, it is Dumbledore. This time, however, Harry is not just disappointed, his faith and loyalty are nearly depleted, and Rita Skeeter seems to have proved his suspicions about Dumbledore. Curiously, despite Skeeter's sullied reputation for fabricating or sensationalizing facts, and Harry's own experience at being victimized by her libelous stories, he readily believes everything in her book. Even Dumbledore's own words seemingly lend credence to Skeeter's claims. Harry's belief may partially be spurred by this, as well as his anger and concerns about Dumbledore's true motives, further fueling Harry's faltering trust and doubts that Dumbledore ever loved him. But Harry fails to remember Dumbledore once telling him, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are." Hermione is likely correct that Harry is more upset that Dumbledore concealed his past from Harry, rather than by what he actually said or did. She points out that despite Dumbledore's early and short-lived flirtation with the Dark Arts and his naïve attraction to its seductive power, that is not the man they knew him to be. Like James Potter, he chose to overcome his earlier flaws and dedicated his remaining life to fighting evil and Muggle oppression. Still entrenched in his youthful, somewhat naïve idealism, Harry believes goodness and wisdom is a straight, one-way journey from birth throughout adulthood, and he fails to understand that it is often a route filled with roadblocks, detours, side streets, and occasional dark alleys. However far Dumbledore may have strayed from his own true path, he, unlike Grindelwald, found his way back again.
Harry mourning his lost wand shows he lacks confidence in himself and partially explains his displaced anger directed at Hermione. He believes it is his wand, rather than his own magical abilities, that provides his magical power. It is as if he has lost yet another loved one who provided guidance and strength. Like his owl, Hedwig, and, years earlier, his destroyed Nimbus 2000 broomstick, the wand provided comforting security and familiarity, as well as symbolizing his entry into the Wizarding world. He is correct, however, that this wand was special, and it apparently had developed unique powers and qualities that further tied him to Voldemort and his yew wand, although these failed to protect it from Hermione's curse. Its loss is clearly a huge set-back to the mission, and while wizards can use other wands, not just any wand works well. Until Harry can obtain a suitable replacement, he must make do sharing Hermione's. And with Ollivander apparently Voldemort's captive, procuring a new wand will be difficult.
It is noted above that Harry was particularly devastated when he lost his Nimbus 2000 broomstick. Curiously, his destroyed Firebolt, a gift from his late godfather, affected him less deeply. Other events such as Hedwig's death at the same time, Moody's demise during the attack, and Sirius' and Dumbledore's recent murders may have overshadowed its significance to him. Also, it being a few years later, Harry's growing maturity has replaced his need to be overly attached and dependent upon inanimate objects for emotional security and to instead rely on friends and allies for support and comfort, though his broken wand is clearly an exception to that.
As a side note, readers perhaps noticed that J.K. Rowling may be employing some humor when Rita Skeeter informally addresses Bathilda Bagshot in her note as "Batty." That, obviously, is a term for being mentally addled, which Bathilda apparently was in her later years, and probably is what allowed Skeeter to manipulate her into yielding her memories.
- Harry considers the trip to Godric's Hollow as being useless. Was it? If not, why?
- It is not uncommon for a wizard to have more than one wand during their lifetime. Other than inconvenient timing, why is Harry so strongly affected by his wand's loss?
- What was the "Greater Good" and for whose good was it really intended?
- Why is Harry so disappointed in Dumbledore, despite the good man that he was? Is Harry's opinion fair?
- What is Hermione's opinion of why Harry is angry at Dumbledore, and is it accurate?
- Why did Dumbledore keep his past a secret? Was he obligated to reveal it to Harry? Explain.
- How might Rita Skeeter have persuaded Bathilda Bagshot to share her memories about Dumbledore and Grindelwald? How reliable were those memories and would that matter to Skeeter?
- What might have caused the rift between Dumbledore and Grindelwald?
- Was Albus blinded to Grindelwald's true nature, despite his knowing what happened at Durmstrang? What would account for this?
- Why would Grindelwald leave Godric's Hollow immediately after Ariana's death?
- Why did Albus wait so long to confront Grindelwald in their historic duel? What were the consequences of that delay?
- Considering Rita Skeeter's reputation for sensationalistic and fabricated stories, why is Harry so quick to believe that everything in her book about Dumbledore is true? Could her claims be correct?
- Why does Hermione doubt that Ariana was a "squib"? Is there any concrete proof supporting her opinion?
In a later chapter of this book, we learn that Dumbledore's earlier comment to Harry, that it is one's choices that truly makes a person what they are, is based on the tragic events involving his own family that forever changed his personal path. While those words did comfort Harry when they were originally spoken, he has since had trouble applying them to anyone other than himself. We had seen in an earlier book that Harry was dismayed to discover that his father (and Sirius) had been a bully, and that he had difficulty comprehending how such a dreadful youth could become the much-respected adult that everyone told him about. He did not understand then that his father had chosen to change, and fails to realize now that Dumbledore had equally made a conscious decision to become a different man, perhaps even better and stronger than if he had never dallied in Dark matters.
Grindelwald's symbol has now been seen three times: once around Xeno Lovegood's neck at the wedding, in the copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard that Dumbledore left to Hermione, and on the gravestone in Godric's Hollow. When Hermione, looking at The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, reads quotes from Dumbledore's letter, she will discover that the young Albus used the same symbol in his signature. While it is known that Grindelwald used the symbol, we also learn it was in use long before his reign of terror, and that he co-opted it, much as the German National Socialist party co-opted the swastika. Having found the symbol now closely tied to Dumbledore, Hermione will be impelled to visit the one person they believe can explain its pre-Grindelwald meaning to them: Xeno Lovegood. In this, they will be assisted by the recently returned Ron, who knows roughly where the Lovegoods live.
Mature readers may find Dumbledore's letter, as revealed here, interesting, as it can be taken two ways. Rita Skeeter's interpretation is that Dumbledore and Grindelwald were planning to overthrow the body of laws governing Wizard and Muggle relations, with the intent to reveal wizards exist and to then head the new social order. Equally, however, it can be seen as the youthful planning of a wizard who has yet to discover that to accomplish anything you must work within the system, changing the existing structure slowly. Granted, it would take a wizard of rare power to bend a social structure that way, but Dumbledore had become just such a wizard. Before coming to this realization, however, he would have dreamed of rebuilding society more completely, as we see in the published letter, and he apparently failed to fully recognize that Grindelwald's methods of achieving their dream would have been far more extreme, and ultimately deadly. Eventually, Dumbledore was instrumental in gentling relations with Muggles to where Arthur Weasley's Muggle protection laws could actually be enacted. However, being himself emotionally immature and still naive about society's nature, Harry is more likely to accept Skeeter's interpretation. Coupled with the above-mentioned inability to apply Dumbledore's aphorism about change, we can see that Harry will have lost immense trust in his own image of Dumbledore.
Following publication of the final book, the author has revealed in an interview that Dumbledore was homosexual. In the light of that awareness, we can see that the relationship between Grindelwald and Dumbledore was very likely more than friendship; on Dumbledore's side at least, it was likely infatuation, and that resulted in a certain amount of blindness to Grindelwald's more violent nature. It is perhaps a measure of the author's skill that the infatuation can be perceived in the one letter that we have seen, so that despite our having seen no previous signs of it, following publication of this letter, Dumbledore's sexual proclivities do not surprise us.
That Harry will acquire several different wands during his mission becomes important to the plot. He learns that under certain conditions, wands can change their allegiance. Mr. Ollivander's claim, that "the wand chooses the wizard," is more important than Harry ever realized and it will affect his final confrontation with Voldemort. The returning Ron will provide Harry a replacement wand that while usable, never performs well for him.