I remember the slight sense of melancholy that punctuated the Deathly Hallows midnight release party in July 2007. It would be the last time we all would gather together in excitement to celebrate our beloved series, the books we had grown up with and grown to rely on. Like Borders, the now-defunct bookstore where they were held, those release parties seem like relics of the past. One has to be careful with nostalgia because it often overlooks anything bad or negative in favor of the “good ol’ days,” but when I look back at my time spent with the Harry Potter books, I know nostalgia isn’t interfering with my memories. Every bit of it truly was the “good ol’ days.” This re-read has allowed me to relive some of those memories—to go back and try to capture the feeling of reading the series for the very first time—and for that I’m grateful. Let’s continue it for a little while longer, shall we?
CHAPTER 2: IN MEMORIAM
Our next chapter begins with a bit of melancholy as well. Harry is sorting through his school trunk, deciding what to take with him and what to leave behind. It’s sad to think of Harry unpacking his trunk instead of preparing it for Hogwarts, stuffing in all of his books and ensuring he doesn’t forget any of Mrs. Weasley’s hand-knitted sweaters. It’s for real, guys: we’re not going back to Hogwarts this year.
This chapter largely focuses on Dumbledore, and we’re given two strikingly different views of his life, although we clearly know which one is true (right??). The first comes from a tribute written by his close friend Elphias Doge in The Daily Prophet. Here’s what we learn about Dumbledore from Doge’s exposition:
- He was a bit of an outcast when he arrived at Hogwarts due to notoriety surrounding his father, Percival, who had landed a lifelong prison sentence in Azkaban for savagely attacking three young Muggles. Dumbledore never defended his father or had any doubt that he was guilty. Instead, he entered Hogwarts determined to distinguish himself from his father’s transgressions.
- Dumbledore more than succeeded in his aim of making a new name for himself. He openly supported Muggle rights while at Hogwarts as well as excelling as a student, winning “every prize of note” that the school had to offer.
- He knew early on that he wanted to be a teacher and spent much of his time helping and encouraging his classmates, including Doge.
- During his time at Hogwarts, Dumbledore regularly corresponded with Nicolas Flamel, Bathilda Bagshot, and a magical theoretician named Adalbert Waffling. He had articles published in Transfiguration Today, Challenges in Charming, and The Practical Potioneer. Is anyone else dying to read those journals, or am I just the ultimate nerd?
- Although he was well qualified and poised to take the position of Minister of Magic, he had no desire to be part of the Ministry. It’s clear that wizarding politics are as corruptible as those of the Muggle world, but I wonder how things would have been different if he had worn the mantle of Minister during the events of the books. Would a defensive against Voldemort and the Death Eaters have been initiated sooner, preventing Dumbledore’s own death as well as countless others? I’m inclined to believe he was exactly where he needed to be, at Hogwarts with the Boy Who Lived. Besides, Dumbledore recognized that his desire for power was his weakness, and he probably did much more good at Hogwarts, isolated from temptation, than he would have at the Ministry.
- His personality differed greatly from his younger brother Aberforth’s, who was a bit hotheaded and preferred to solve disagreements through dueling rather than friendly debate. Despite their differences, however, the brothers were friends. Doge suspects it must have been difficult for Aberforth to live in his older brother’s shadow, mentioning that even Albus’ friends were eclipsed by his fame, which draws an interesting parallel to Harry’s fame at Hogwarts.
- Just after his graduation from Hogwarts, Dumbledore’s mother Kendra died, leaving him in charge of his younger brother and sister.
- Just a year later, his younger sister Ariana died as well. Her death affected Dumbledore deeply, as he felt personally responsible for it, and it also caused a rift between him and Aberforth that lasted for many years.
- Dumbledore went on to make several significant contributions to the wizarding world, including his discovery of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood (we know three of them from the books: a healing aid, oven cleaner, and spot remover—which brings me to the most important question of all: is Mr. Clean actually a Wizard?). He also made many important decisions as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, although what those decisions were exactly is not known.
- His duel with Gellert Grindelwald in 1945 is famously remembered as the greatest wizarding duel ever witnessed. None has matched it since, and those who saw it reported the terror and awe they felt as the two great wizards battled it out.
Harry realizes how little he knew about Dumbledore’s life before now and feels a sting of regret. Because Harry is our unreliable point of view, this is the first we’ve learned about Dumbledore’s background as well. We knew he was a great wizard who accomplished impactful things based on his interactions with Harry and what little Harry has learned about him from other sources, but this is the first time his emotions have come into play. We knew almost nothing about his family, about the effect of his difficult childhood and the loss of his mother and sister on his psyche, or about the toll that caring for his siblings at such a young age, instead of going off to discover his fortune like his friends, must have had on him.
Next, Harry learns that Rita Skeeter has written an upcoming exposé on Dumbledore, which contradicts what Doge wrote and paints our headmaster in a less than flattering light, while also managing to attack Harry in the process. Here’s what her preview “reveals”:
- Ivor Dillonsby had already discovered eight of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood before letting Dumbledore borrow his papers.
- Grindelwald surrendered to Dumbledore and the duel never happened—Skeeter hyperbolizes that he conjured a white handkerchief from the end of his wand.
- Harry is implicated in Dumbledore’s death—Skeeter says he was seen running away from the scene moments after Dumbledore’s fall, and she mentions that his testimony against Snape stems from a personal grudge.
Harry is expectedly furious, but he has bigger fish to fry, and there’s not much he can do at this point anyway. Skeeter’s exposé seems insignificant in the grand scheme of things, like an annoying itch that won’t go away. Harry is well acquainted with the Wizarding tabloids by now, and this is the beginning of book seven! Characters we love are going to die, emphasis on the plural. I don’t know if I can go through this a second time! Deathly Hallows is actually the only book in the series I haven’t read more than once, and there’s a reason for that—six of them, to be exact.
At the end of the chapter, Harry catches a glimpse of a light blue eye—identical to Dumbledore’s—in the shard of mirror that Sirius gave him. Checking it again, he sees only his reflection, but you can bet this little piece of information stayed in the back of my mind throughout the rest of the book, a pinprick of hope amidst everything that’s about to happen.
CHAPTER 3: THE DURSLEYS DEPARTING
Not much happens in this chapter, but it’s significant because Harry not only helps ensure the Dursleys’ safety despite their cruel treatment of him for practically his entire life, but he also makes amends with Dudley. In the previous chapter, Harry trips over a teacup that was left outside his door. He suspects Dudley left it there as a booby trap, but this chapter reveals it may have been a peace offering of sorts.
Harry’s relationship with Dudley has always been a typical childhood one between a scrawny kid and his bully. Not to say that there’s anything okay with bullying, but when it comes to the Dursleys’ treatment of Harry, Vernon and Petunia are the real villains. They can be blamed for Dudley’s behavior based on his upbringing and Harry’s in comparison. How else could Dudley have been expected to behave, when he grew up with parents who coddled him while endlessly berating Harry in front of him? It’s only after seeing Harry leave Privet Drive, taken out of the context of his mistreatment and viewed objectively, that Dudley finally sees what he did was wrong.
Dudley is the same age as Harry, which implies he’s matured a great deal. It’s normal for teenagers to remove their parents from the pedestals they kept them on throughout their childhood, and to begin to realize how their own thoughts and views might differ from what they’ve been taught. For Dudley, this realization comes with remorse and concern for Harry. We can perhaps assume that Harry’s rescue of Dudley from the Dementors in book 5 may have led to his change of heart, especially since Dudley specifically mentions it to Harry in this scene. Dementors can have a severe and lasting effect on a person, and I think they affected Dudley deeply.
It’s a touching moment, when Dudley tells Harry he doesn’t think he’s a waste of space. That moment is also an indication of the weight of everything that’s about to come. If Dudley understands it, then it’s bound to be some serious shit, you guys.