What is Dumbledore’s Boggart?
In a July 2006 Leaky Cauldron/Mugglenet interview, Rowling suggested we’d be able to develop theories about Dumbledore’s boggart from reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
A boggart takes the form of what a person fears most, and I believe HBP reveals that Dumbledore’s greatest fear is harm coming to children under his care. Support for this theory is demonstrated in HBP chapters 25-27, the events of the night Dumbledore and Harry went to the sea cave.
The Conversation in Dumbledore’s Office
Prior to leaving for the trip to the cave, Harry had confronted Dumbledore with the news that Draco was celebrating in the RoR and that Harry had learned Snape was the eavesdropper who had carried the first part of the prophesy to Voldemort:
“You’re leaving the school tonight, and I’ll bet you haven’t even considered that Snape and Malfoy might decide to—“
“To what?” asked Dumbledore, his eyebrows raised. “What is it you suspect them of doing, precisely?”
“I . . .they’re up to something!” said Harry, and his hands curled into fists as he said it. “Professor Trelawney was just in the Room of Requirement, trying to hide her sherry bottles, and she heard Malfoy whooping, celebrating! He’s trying to mend something dangerous in there and if you asked me, he’s fixed it at last and you’re about to just walk out of school without—“
“Enough,” said Dumbledore. He said it quite calmly, and yet Harry fell silent at once; he knew he had finally crossed some invisible line. “Do you think that I have once left the school unprotected during my absences this year? I have not. Tonight, when I leave, there will again be additional protection in place. Please do not suggest that I do not take the safety of my students seriously, Harry.” (HBP25)
What’s most revealing about this passage isn’t that Dumbledore declared his concern for the students, but that Harry “knew he had finally crossed some invisible line.” Considering that Harry’s insolence toward Dumbledore in the preceding books had elicited hisses and exclamations of disapproval from the portraits on the walls of Dumbledore’s office and considering particularly Harry’s rampage in Dumbledore’s office at the end of OP when he blindly smashed Dumbledore’s delicate silver instruments while shouting at the Headmaster, it's saying something that he realized he had finally crossed a line. Dumbledore had much experience overlooking Harry’s offensive behavior to himself, but he wouldn’t overlook an accusation that he was leaving the students unprotected.
Moreover, before Harry was sent off to Gryffindor Tower, Dumbledore laid down firm rules for Harry’s protection that he repeated several times so there would be no misunderstanding and so Harry would comprehend that consenting to Dumbledore’s rules was a non-negotiable condition of accompanying him to the cave:
“I take you on one condition: that you obey any command I might give you at once, and without question.”
“Be sure to understand me, Harry. I mean that you must follow even such orders as ‘run,’ ‘hide,’ ‘or ‘go back.’ Do I have your word?”
“I—yes, of course.”
“If I tell you to hide, you will do so?”
“If I tell you to flee, you will obey?”
“If I tell you to leave me and save yourself, you will do as I tell you?”
“Yes, Sir.” (HBP25)
So before leaving for the cave, Rowling made sure we understood Dumbledore’s profound concern for the welfare of the students in his care. As a final protection for Harry, Dumbledore insisted that he put on his Invisibility Cloak for the trip to Hogsmeade.
The Experience in the Sea Cave
When they reached the cave, Dumbledore dried Harry off, insisted on using his own blood to open the cave wall, and led the way through the cave, catching Harry when he slipped, instructing Harry to stay close to the wall, to avoid the water, and to conjure fire should the Inferi leave the lake.
When Dumbledore determined that the green potion had to be drunk in order to retrieve the Horcrux at the bottom of the basin, he again reminded Harry of the rules:
“You remember,” said Dumbledore, “the condition on which I brought you with me?”
Harry hesitated, looking into the blue eyes again that had turned green in the reflected light of the basin.
“But what if—?”
“You swore, did you not, to follow any command I gave you?”
“I warned you, did I not, that here might be danger?”
“Yes,” said Harry, “but—“
“Well, then,” said Dumbledore, shaking back his sleeves once more and raising the empty goblet, “you have my orders.”
“Why can’t I drink the potion instead?” asked Harry desperately.
“Because I am much older, much cleverer, and much less valuable,” said Dumbledore. (HBP26)
What did Dumbledore experience when he drank the green potion in the cave? Taking their cues from Rowling, many theorists are referring to the potion as a liquid boggart, which suggests the potion would elicit different images and experiences for each potential drinker. This theory generally goes on to claim that Dumbledore was forced to imagine the deaths of James and Lily Potter, but I don’t believe that’s true. I think the drinker of the phosphorescent green potion was forced to experience Tom Riddle’s torture of Amy Benson and Dennis Bishop during the orphanage’s annual summer outing many years earlier.
As Mrs. Cole told Dumbledore on the day he met Tom Riddle:
“Billy Stubb’s rabbit . . . well, Tom said he didn’t do it and I don’t see how he could have done, but even so, it didn’t hang itself from the rafters, did it?” . . . But I’m jiggered if I know how he got up there to do it. All I know is he and Billy had argued the day before. And then. . .on the summer outing—we take them out, you know, once a year, to the countryside or to the seaside—well, Amy Benson and Dennis Bishop were never quite the same afterwards, and all we ever got out of them was that they’d gone into a cave with Tom Riddle. He swore they’d just gone exploring, but something happened in there, I’m sure of it.” (HBP13)
When Dumbledore met 11-year-old Tom a few minutes later, Tom thought Dumbledore was a doctor trying to trick Tom into an insane asylum. Even though neither Dumbledore nor Mrs. Cole had mentioned any “incidents,” Riddle spontaneously denied harming Amy Benson and Dennis Bishop and clearly believed they were the reason he was being institutionalized. This is a clear hint from Rowling that Tom Riddle had done something sadistic to the two children in the cave that day:
“You can’t kid me! The asylum, that’s where you’re from, isn’t it? ‘Professor,’ yes of course—well, I’m not going, see? That old cat’s the one who should be in the asylum. I never did anything to little Amy Benson or Dennis Bishop, and you can ask them, they’ll tell you!” (HBP13)
What might he have done? We can somewhat guess from the magical abilities Tom boastingly told Dumbledore he had developed on his own:
“I can make things move without touching them, I can make animals do what I want them to do, without training them. I can make bad things happen to people who annoy me. I can make them hurt if I want to.” (HBP13)
The first clue that Dumbledore was reliving the torture of Amy and Dennis through the potion is that Dumbledore was speaking in quite childlike language for most of the time he was drinking it:
After 3 ½ goblets of green potion Dumbledore’s eyes closed, his face twitched, he appeared to be dreaming a horrible dream, and he spoke in a frightened voice:
“I don’t want . . . don’t make me . . . don’t like . . . want to stop ‘ ‘ ‘
After four full goblets:
“No . . .I don’t want to . . . I don’t want to . . . Let me go . . . Make it stop, make it stop.”
After five goblets, Dumbledore screamed:
“No, no, no, no, I can’t, I can’t, don’t make me, I don’t want to . . .”
After six goblets:
“It’s all my fault, all my fault,” he sobbed. “Please make it stop, I know I did wrong, oh please make it stop, and I’ll never, never again . . . “
After seven goblets, “Dumbledore began to cower as though invisible torturers surrounded him; his flailing hand almost knocked the refilled goblet from Harry’s trembling hands as he moaned,"
“Don’t hurt them, don’t hurt them, please, please, it’s my fault, hurt me instead . . . “
After eight goblets Dumbledore shook from head to toe and fell forward screaming and hammering his fists on the ground:
“Please, please, please, no . . . not that, not that, I’ll do anything . . .“
On the ninth goblet, Dumbledore “drank like a child dying of thirst, but when he had finished, he yelled again as though his insides were on fire”:
“No more, please no more . . .”
After the tenth goblet, Dumbledore began to scream in more anguish than ever:
"I want to die! I want to die! Make it stop, make it stop, I want to die!”
After the eleventh goblet:
After the twelfth goblet, Dumbledore collapsed unconscious.
Although it’s a popular theory that the potion made Dumbledore think of the death of the Potters, does that appear to be the case when looking closely at what Dumbledore was saying? If he had been thinking of the Potters, why would he say, “Let me go”? I contend that Dumbledore was reliving the torture of the children while drinking the potion and was speaking as the children had spoken to Tom Riddle, who was probably punishing them for something. In one place, Dumbledore was even described as drinking “like a child dying of thirst,” and that is a curious thing for Rowling to have written. Would we have been less sympathetic if Dumbledore had been described as “drinking like a man dying of thirst?” No, so the reference to a child is a deliberate clue that Dumbledore was reliving the torture of Amy Benson and Dennis Bishop in that cave.
Dumbledore was speaking as the children were speaking in the memory, but with one exception that occurred about halfway through the potion. Notice the shifting pronouns in the following two sentences that were spoken in succession:
“It’s all my fault, all my fault,” he sobbed. “Please make it stop, I know I did wrong, oh please make it stop, and I’ll never, never again . . . “
[“Dumbledore began to cower as though invisible torturers surrounded him; his flailing hand almost knocked the refilled goblet from Harry’s trembling hands as he moaned,]
“Don’t hurt them, don’t hurt them, please, please, it’s my fault, hurt me instead . . . “
We’re thrown off by the repetition of “my fault” in both sentences, but clearly the first voice (child) knows why the torture is happening (“It's all my fault . . . I know I did wrong . . . I’ll never, never again . . .”) whereas the second voice (Dumbledore) says, “Don’t hurt them” and “hurt me instead.” This is the only one of Dumbledore’s utterances in which the speaker 1) is not the victim, 2) refers to more than one person being hurt, 3) uses a third person pronoun, and 4) asks that the torture be redirected to himself. In the other utterances, it’s clear that the speaker is begging that the torture he or she is experiencing be stopped.
And very importantly, “Don’t’ hurt them” was spoken at the only time during the potion drinking that Dumbledore cowered and appeared to be trying to push something away from him, which is key to understanding this passage. The physical threat immediately upon the children in his potion-induced dream spurred Dumbledore’s desire to save them to such a degree that his own voice broke through the mental incapacitation caused by the potion. This happened two more times that evening: first, when the Inferi threatening Harry enabled him to rally to conjure a protective ring of fire, and second, when the Dark Mark threatening the students at Hogwarts enabled him to rally to race to the Astronomy Tower. In all three examples, Dumbledore’s sense of impending physical danger to children worked as a stimulant that enabled a temporary recovery in the midst of overwhelming physical or mental incapacitation. Moreover, Dumbledore’s “hurt me instead” request to the invisible torturer in the cave is a foreshadowing of what would happen shortly on the Astronomy Tower.
This momentary break-through is consistent with Dumbledore’s willingness to sacrifice himself, demonstrated by the conditions he set upon Harry before they left Hogsmeade (“If I tell you to leave me and save yourself, you will do as I tell you?”) and to his ultimate sacrifice on the Astronomy Tower when he pleaded with Severus Snape to cast the Avada Kedavra that would end Dumbledore’s life, thereby saving Draco from becoming a killer and preserving Snape’s life to help Harry defeat Voldemort.
Why would Voldemort create a potion that would cause the drinker to relive the experience of Amy and Dennis? Because Tom Riddle was proud of torturing those children with powers he had developed on his own. And just as he had gotten away with framing Hagrid for killing Moaning Myrtle but created the diary so he could take full credit for opening the chamber, so he left behind a record in the form of a potion that revealed what he had done to the orphans in the sea cave.
This fits a pattern whereby Voldemort's Horcruxes and their hiding places are chosen to showcase his magical brilliance in places he considers significant to his own very special life. Moreover, he always leaves enough evidence to establish what he did in those places.
1) The Riddle Diary Horcrux.
The diary once owned by T.M. Riddle was a weapon Horcrux constructed to open the Chamber of Secrets so that Tom Marvolo Riddle could at last get the credit he had been forced to give to Hagrid in 1943. He wanted people to know, via the diary, that Tom Marvolo Riddle was the true Heir of Slytherin who had been brilliant enough as a fifth year student to find and open Slytherin’s Chamber of Secrets and frame Hagrid for the crime (which is why the memory of the framing of Hagrid was placed in the diary). Lucius was only temporarily holding it; its ultimate destination was Hogwarts, where the original events had taken place.
2) The Peverell Ring Horcrux.
Riddle could easily have modified Morfin's memory to make him think the ring was safe at Gringotts so that Morfin’s mind would be easy over the fact that Marvolo’s ring was no longer on his finger. That way Morfin wouldn’t have been yammering about losing Marvolo’s heirloom ring when the murder of the Riddles was being investigated. As Dumbledore told Harry:
“[Morfin] permitted himself to be led off to Azkaban without a fight. All that disturbed him was the fact that his father’s ring had disappeared. ‘He’ll kill me for losing it,’ he told his captors over and over again. ‘He’ll kill me for losing his ring.’” (HBP17).
The false memory Riddle did plant in Morfin’s mind was so powerful that Morfin bragged about killing the Riddles, so why leave a loose end knowing that Morfin would obsess about the missing ring and potentially give the game away by hinting that someone else was involved? Frank Bryce had seen a teenage boy at the Riddle house that day, so that fact added to Morfin’s state of agitation was a huge risk. But from Voldemort’s point of view, it made sense to leave that loose end because he was planning to wear the ring at Hogwarts long enough for everyone to see it before returning it to the Gaunt ruins, thereby leaving evidence that Tom Marvolo Riddle was the mastermind of the entire event: he had killed the adult Riddles using Morfin’s wand, framed Morfin with a powerful false memory, and stolen the Peverell ring. It fits the diary pattern in that he couldn’t resist leaving evidence of evil he was proud of committing and had managed to cover up. He hid the ring in the place where his Slytherin blood had resided, making it a significant location.
3) The Slytherin Locket Horcrux.
This seems to break the pattern of connecting a Horcrux to a location closely associated with that particular Horcrux; however, there is a connection between the cave and locket via Parseltongue. The ability to speak to snakes was Slytherin’s signature power, and young Tom Riddle told Dumbledore that it was on the orphanage’s annual outings that he discovered his ability to speak to snakes. So in the cave, one of the locations associated with a summer outing, he decided to hide Slytherin’s locket; the cave was definitely significant to Riddle because he had used it to abuse two children magically, using powers he had developed without any training. It fits Voldemort’s pattern that the potion would make the drinker relive the torture of Amy Benson and Dennis Bishop in order to know what Voldemort had done there, just as he had with the diary and ring.
4) I speculate in another essay that the Hufflepuff Cup has been Transfigured into the Medal for Magical Merit and hidden in the Hogwart's trophy room. This would be Hogwarts as a significant place because Tom Riddle was happy and had learned to develop his magical powers there (as opposed to the Diary Horcrux that was more specifically related to the Chamber of Secrets). The object we’ve seen most likely to be the Transfigured cup is Tom Riddle’s Medal for Magical Merit. I had at first questioned it because Voldemort hates his Muggle name, but it fits with his pattern of leaving clues to what he's done. And I won’t be surprised if the medal is examined closely and found to have a tiny badger on it similar to the tiny snake on the bathroom tap marking the opening to the Chamber of Secrets. http://felicitys-mind.livejournal.com/1383.html
Getting back to Hogsmeade
The potion was also a poison if Hermione’s hint at the beginning of HBP was a foreshadowing as it appears to have been: when she saw Dumbledore’s hand at the start of term feast in September, she said “"But there are some injuries you can't cure . . . old curses . . . and there are poisons without antidotes. . . ." (HBP8) Dumbledore later confirmed that a terrible curse upon the ring had damaged his hand, so we should consider her comment a hint that we were going to see a poison that had no antidote. The poisoned mead did have an antidote, so the green potion must also have been a poison that did not have an antidote. Dumbledore said Voldemort wouldn’t want the drinker to be killed right away because Voldemort would want to question the person who took the Horcrux. But would Voldemort go to all the trouble to make the cave Horcrux as difficult to reach and obtain as he did only to use a non-deadly potion or one containing a poison that could be neutralized with a bezoar or antidote? No. And from the effects the potion had on Dumbledore, we can expect that it was ending his life.
After drinking the twelfth goblet of potion, Dumbledore collapsed unconscious. Harry was able to revive him with two Rennervate! spells, after which Dumbledore’s eyes flickered and he asked for water. As Harry unsuccessfully tried to give Dumbledore water, he had to raise the weakened Dumbledore’s head to let him drink, and at one point, Dumbledore rolled onto his side and drew “great, rattling breaths that sounded agonizing.” When Harry noticed that Dumbledore’s breath was fading, he turned to the lake for water and spilled it on Dumbledore’s face as an Inferius pulled him backwards. Harry forgot that the Inferi could be driven back by fire, and his shouted spells were useless against them; they rose up from the lake, lifted him off his feet and began carrying him to the water. Suddenly fire erupted because Dumbledore, stimulated by Harry’s helplessness, had rallied from his incapacitated state to save him:
“But then, through the darkness, fire erupted: crimson and gold, a ring of fire that surrounded the rock so that the Inferi holding Harry so tightly stumbled and faltered . . . Dumbledore was on his feet again, pale as any of the surrounding Inferi, but taller than any too, the fire dancing in his eyes; his wand was raised like a torch and from its tip emanated the flames, like a vast lasso, encircling them all with warmth.” (HBP27)
Dumbledore scooped up the locket, gestured Harry to his side, led Harry safely to the boat, and then when the Inferi had slipped back into the lake and the immediate danger was over, Dumbledore once more failed physically as “all his efforts seemed to be going into maintaining the ring of protective flame round them." Dumbledore required Harry's help getting into the boat. Only when they reached the safety of the shore did Dumbledore let his wand hand fall, and the ring of fire vanished. Dumbledore then needed to lean against the cave wall:
“I am weak . . .” he said.
“Don’t worry, sir, said Harry at once, anxious about Dumbledore’s extreme pallor and air of exhaustion. “Don’t worry, I’ll get us back . . .Lean on me, sir . . .”
And pulling Dumbledore’s uninjured arm around his shoulders, Harry guided his headmaster back around the lake, bearing most of his weight.” (HBP27)
Harry gave the blood tribute to open the archway, then “back under the starry sky, Harry heaved Dumbledore onto the top of the nearest boulder and then to his feet. Sodden and shivering, Dumbledore’s weight still upon him,” Harry Apparated them back to Hogsmeade, but no sooner had they arrived when “Dumbledore staggered against him. . . . . And to Harry’s horror, Dumbledore sank to the ground.” (HBP27)
Rosmerta appeared, pointed out the Dark Mark over the Astronomy Tower, and Dumbledore revived just as he had when Harry had been attacked by the Inferi:
“When did it appear?” asked Dumbledore, and his hand clenched painfully upon Harry’s shoulder as he struggled to his feet.”
“We need to return to the castle at once,” said Dumbledore. “Rosmerta”—and though he staggered a little, he seemed wholly in command of the situation—“we need transport—brooms—“
“ . . . Harry and Dumbledore kicked off from the ground and rose up into the air. As they sped toward the castle, Harry glanced sideways at Dumbledore, ready to grab him should he fall, but the sight of the Dark Mark seemed to have acted upon Dumbledore like a stimulant: He was bent low over his broom, his eyes fixed upon the Mark, his long silver hair and beard flying behind him on the night air.” (HBP27)
The conversation on the AstronomyTower
They reached the Tower safely, but,
“In the dim green glow from the Mark, Harry saw Dumbledore clutching at his chest with his blackened hand.” (HBP27)
Dumbledore was weakening again and sent Harry to get Severus Snape; however, he heard Draco pounding up the stairs, and in another act of self-sacrifice, he used the few seconds he had to freeze Harry with a full body-bind spell. Harry could not understand at first because Dumbledore had used a nonverbal spell, and Harry surmised that by casting the freezing spell on Harry, Dumbledore had used the seconds available to him immobilize Harry rather than defend himself. But even in light of Dumbledore's weakness, is that all Dumbledore had been able to do?
In OP27, when the DA had been busted and Dumbledore was about to be arrested by two Aurors on Fudge's order, Dumbledore managed to knock out Fudge, Umbridge, Shacklebolt, and Dawlish single-handedly while sparing McGonagall, Harry, and Marietta. Surely even weakened Dumbledore could take on two sixth year students by himself. But Dumbledore didn't take action to defend himself against Draco. Dumbledore wanted to talk to Draco to save him from becoming a killer, so in freezing Harry and allowing Draco to expel his wand over the ramparts, Dumbledore allowed Draco to appear to have power over Dumbledore. Had Dumbledore tried to body-bind Draco as he had with Harry, Draco wouldn’t have come to any self-awareness, and if Dumbledore had kept his wand and allowed Draco to keep his, Draco would have been too threatened to learn anything from Dumbledore.
As their conversation progressed, Dumbledore, wandless and defenseless, continued to slide down the rampart as he became physically weaker from the poison. Dumbledore had wanted to talk to Draco all year but knew he couldn't without endangering the boy's life, so by allowing himself to be weak (magically and physically) before Draco, he bought time to speak personally to him— to make Draco see that he wasn't a killer by reminding him several times of the task he was there to perform, to affirm his personal trust in Severus Snape, to acknowledge that Draco's his “crude and badly judged measures” with the necklace and mead had not resulted in permanent harm to Katie and Ron, and most importantly, to make Draco realize that help would be available to him and his family through the Order.
In the context of Dumbledore’s boggart, the whole conversation was about saving Draco. The two times Dumbledore reproved Draco occurred when he referred to Hermione as a Mudblood (“Please do not use that offensive word in front of me”) and when Dumbledore thought Draco had allowed the werewolf Fenrir Greyback into the school (“ . . .I am a little shocked that Draco here invited you, of all people, into the school where his friends live . . .”). (HBP27)
Dumbledore made the ultimate sacrifice for his current and future students by pleading with Snape to kill him on the Tower, thereby preventing Draco from killing while saving Snape’s life because of the Unbreakable Vow. By preserving Snape, who is now in a stronger position with Voldemort, Snape will be able to help Harry vanquish Voldemort, which was always Dumbledore's goal. And evidence that Draco was "saved" is that when Dumbledore said he was shocked that Draco invited Fenrir into the school, Draco was more concerned to assure Dumbledore's that he had not done so than he was concerned about the opinions of the Death Eaters listening behind him; in other words, even though he knew Dumbledore was going to die that night and he would be returning to Voldemort in the company of the DE's, he nevertheless openly sought Dumbledore's approval despite the insult to the DE's behind him.
In the space of HBP chapters 25 through 27, it’s very clear that Rowling has arranged two scenes in which Dumbledore’s concern for the safety of children entrusted to him form a pair of bookends on either side of the cave visit. The bookend passages and Voldemort’s Horcrux patterns are the key to understanding what happened to Dumbledore when he drank the green potion. And given Rowling’s suggestion that theories about Dumbledore’s boggart could be developed from HBP, I believe these scenes collectively demonstrate that his boggart would take the form of harm befalling children in general, and students under his care in specific.