"I Am With You"
—Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 578
By Nina de Boo
“I Can Assist You”8
Throughout Harry’s time at Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore was the school’s headmaster. He once used to be Transfiguration teacher, but those days have long gone. Therefore, he never taught Harry in a formal setting—until Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, when the headmaster decided to take “a greater hand in [Harry’s] education.”9 Having now informed Harry of the existence and contents of the prophecy, he knew that it was time for him to fully prepare the frightened but determined young man for the task laid out before him: to kill or be killed. Upon hearing of Harry’s upcoming private lessons with Dumbledore, Ron and Hermione instantly started speculating on the kind of things Harry would have to learn in order to be able to defeat the Dark Lord. “Really advanced defensive magic, probably,” Hermione conjectured, “powerful countercurses … anti-jinxes […] and evasive enchantments generally.”10
However, Dumbledore had other things in mind. He understood that to be able to win the battle, one does not simply need to know how to fight, but it is equally, if not more, important to “know thy enemy.” In a series of lessons, he showed and taught Harry everything he knew about the orphan boy Tom Riddle, and his transformation into Lord Voldemort—the greatest dark wizard of all time. Harry learned about his enemy’s strengths, his weaknesses and his motivations. He learned about Voldemort’s reasons for despising Muggles and half-bloods, his penchant for collecting trophies of battles won, his inability to understand the human heart … and his desire for immortality. Harry learned about the lengths Voldemort had gone to in trying to achieve immortality; how he encased fragments of his soul inside Horcruxes, how many Horcruxes there were likely to be, and what objects they may be. Teacher and pupil even went out on a nighttime adventure to retrieve one of the Horcruxes—an expedition filled with yet more lessons. Harry learned about the kind of magical protections Voldemort may have placed upon his Horcruxes, again giving him a deeper insight into his opponent’s mind. But the adventure rapidly turned into adversity, then into disaster, and finally into tragedy. By the end of the night, Harry was forced to helplessly stand and watch his revered teacher be killed, cutting the lessons short, and leaving him to face the battle alone.
We speculated earlier that Dumbledore may have been prepared for the possibility of his death. But did his passing nevertheless come sooner than he expected? For someone who knew his time was running out he was taking an awfully relaxed approach to answering questions from his student. Why did he never explain to Harry why he trusted Severus Snape so implicitly? Doesn’t Harry need to know what he is up against and who is on his side? Harry just witnessed Snape murder his mentor in cold blood, how could Dumbledore have been so ignorant and blind? Can Harry still trust Dumbledore’s teachings if the teacher can make mistakes on this scale? And what about the Horcruxes—Harry knows what he may be looking for, but how does he even begin to figure out where? What’s more, if he does locate them, does he know enough about Dark magic to navigate all the possible booby-traps Voldemort may have placed on them? Harry would never have known how to get into the cave on his own, or how to find the little boat that could take him to the locket Horcrux. Most importantly, when he finally does hold that Horcrux in his hand, how will Harry know how to destroy it? He had been lucky with the diary, but even Dumbledore himself had obviously struggled with destroying the ring, resulting in a severely injured hand and the need for assistance from the Potions master.
Dumbledore may have had his reasons for keeping information from Harry. He may have carelessly thought he still had more time to finish his lessons. However, he may have made sure that the information Harry will need to finish his task is still there for Harry to find.
First of all, Dumbledore has not left Hogwarts completely: his portrait is now up in the headmaster’s office. We know that portraits can talk and move and are capable of emotion and making independent decisions. The portrait of Phineas Nigellus, for instance, appeared distraught upon hearing that Sirius Black, his great-great-grandson, had been murdered, and after expressing his disbelief, he went off to see if this was true. This means that Harry may be able to see the headmaster again and even speak to him by means of his portrait! However, when once asked if Harry would be able to get any advice from paintings of people that have died, J.K. Rowling herself explained: “the idea is that the previous headmasters and headmistresses leave behind a faint imprint of themselves. They leave their aura, almost, in the office and they can give some counsel to the present occupant, but it is not like being a ghost. They repeat catchphrases, almost.”11 Therefore, although the image in the painting may look and sound like his beloved mentor, it is unlikely that Harry will be able to obtain much new information from it.
Something that may be more useful is Dumbledore’s Pensieve. Most of what Harry knows about Horcruxes he learned through viewing memories in the Pensieve. We do not know yet what will happen to the Pensieve now Dumbledore has departed. His possessions may go to his next of kin, they may be passed on to the new headmistress, or he may have specifically bequeathed them to others. However, in any of these situations the Pensieve may be accessible to Harry. Dumbledore has explained to Harry that he spent several years gathering memories about Tom Riddle and his quest for immortality; Harry was only shown a handful of them. He may have left more behind for Harry to find and use.
Another way Dumbledore may continue his teachings from beyond the grave is through information that he has bestowed on others. One person that springs to mind would be his brother, Aberforth. Although it has not yet been revealed in the books themselves, J.K. Rowling has confirmed that the funny-smelling barman of the Hog’s Head Inn in Hogsmeade is indeed Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth.12 Not only is Aberforth Dumbledore’s closest relation, his business, the Hog’s Head Inn, is a place that attracts “a lot o' funny folk”13 and where all kinds of information could be overheard. Furthermore, although he may be illiterate, Aberforth has “got a long memory.”14 There may be a plethora of information that Aberforth could provide. J.K. Rowling has said that “there is one member of the Order of the Phoenix that you have not yet met properly and you will well, you know that they are a member, but you haven't really met them properly yet and you will meet them in [book] seven.”15 Aberforth Dumbledore appeared in Mad-Eye Moody’s picture of the original Order of the Phoenix; could this mean that he will play a more important role in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and become a source of information for our young hero?