The world is full wise old men who will tell you all the important bits of information that you need to complete your world-saving quest… if you live in a fictional epic about that sort of thing. Problem is, these wise old men never tell you the whole story, do they? They give you half. Or a quarter. They tell you the truth, but they reframe it like it’s an old story, or a play that they saw at this really good theatre once. They teach you lessons like they are doling out candy—too good to eat all at once.
But surely that can’t always be true.
Albus Dumbledore kept a lot of things from Harry Potter throughout his years at Hogwarts, and even after his death. But the hardest part about these secrets is that they were often revealed strategically, or Harry had to find them out for himself in the most traumatizing way possible. Here are the worst five. Well, maybe the worst. You can decide where your mileage is on that.
1. You’re A Horcrux, And That’s the Real Reason You Have to Die
Look, there is no kind way for Albus Dumbledore to tell an eleven-year-old child that he is eventually going to have to sacrifice himself for the greater good, to say nothing of explaining that part of a dark wizard’s soul resides in his person… but there is no reason that he couldn’t have clued Harry in on this issue a little bit earlier. Sure, the prophecy gets revealed at the end of Harry’s fifth year, but that doesn’t get into the horcrux aspect of his existence, which is kind of the most important part? At the point at which he’s training Harry in earnest to walk to his death, there should be an understanding that his death is a bit more complicated than Trelawney’s prediction suggested. Of course, revealing that goes against how we’re told these stories are supposed to work; we’re supposed to believe that the hero can only accept their fate once they’ve achieved a true understanding and appreciation for all that could go wrong if they walk away from destiny. But refusing to give the kid time means he really just walks into it blindly, on his gut instincts. He doesn’t get the chance to process those emotions. It’s kind of reflective of the love his mother protected him with, unthinkingly, when she died at the hands of Voldemort. That’s some poetic writing, for sure. Not very ethical, though.
Were all the secrets Albus kept from Harry the real smoking gun that ensured Voldemort’s defeat? It’s possible, certainly, but it’s still tantamount to press-ganging kids into the army. (Which is kinda what the books are about, to be fair.) Your drill sergeant only tells you what you need to know, but that’s a terrifying stance for an educator to take regarding the children at the school that he’s running. If you’re going to do that, maybe stop pretending that these kids are getting a normal childhood.
2. Professor Snape Loved Your Mom
So many problems over the course of Harry’s time at school occur because there is one teacher at Hogwarts who is permitted to outright abuse the students without any explanation whatsoever. It’s hard to say what’s worse about the Snape situation at Hogwarts—the fact that Dumbledore won’t give Harry a more concrete reason to trust the man besides “I’m telling you, he’s an okay dude,” or the fact that he doesn’t explain why Snape has it out for Harry in particular. Refusing to be honest on that front leaves Harry baffled for his first couple years at school, then makes Harry assume that it’s just because his dad was a big jerk to the guy. Which is still not a good reason for a teacher to abuse a student, fyi. It’s called professionalism, Severus.
But the real truth is that Snape hates Harry most of all because he loved Harry’s mom, Lily. And that’s… creepy as heck. And still not a good reason for a teacher to abuse a student. (That’s because there are no good reasons to abuse a student, in case anyone was unclear on that.) If Harry has to continually suffer through that, the least Dumbledore could do is give him an explanation for it. Granted, the better choice might have been to call the Potion’s Master up to his office and say “Hey Severus, if you don’t stop treating these kids like garbage, I’ll tell everyone that you had a crush on Harry’s mom,” but… you know, baby steps.
3. I Was Pals With the Biggest Wizard Fascist Alive Before Voldemort Even Showed Up
Grindelwald is clearly a sore spot for Albus, but that’s no excuse for keeping Harry in the dark about his attachment to one of the worst wizards of the modern era. While all the nastiness that went down with old Gellert deals with some very personal information that the headmaster might just as soon keep private, refusing to clue Harry in on that deeply dysfunctional and brief friendship is ultimately a selfish choice that damages Harry’s faith in him, and could have easily undermined his whole cause. Knowing that Albus Dumbledore was not a perfect guy might have crushed Harry for a little while, but knowing that his beloved mentor trusted him enough to tell him some pretty awful secrets could have kept everything on track better than overhearing some nastiness at a wedding and then reading a trashy tabloid biography.
He didn’t even have to tell Harry the whole story. Just “hey, I get that you’re having a hard time keeping Voldemort out of your head. Evil wiggles in, and I should know—I was BFF with a really bad dude once upon a time, and got obsessed with finding the Deathly Hallows. What are those, you ask? Don’t worry, I left Hermione a book that she’ll probably get the chance to read in another year or so.” Oh, and while we’re on the topic of Albus’s impending death, here’s another thing he might have wanted to tell the kid—
4. Draco Has Been Ordered to Kill Me, Don’t Worry, I Have A Plan
Okay, fine, if Dumbledore tells Harry that Snape is going to have to kill him later in Draco’s stead, that’s not going to work out well. Distracting the kid with his mentor’s own impending death could have very easily derailed their training, and made the entire sixth year a bust. You know what also doesn’t help? STALKING A FELLOW CLASSMATE FOR A YEAR AND THEN NEARLY BLEEDING HIM OUT IN A BATHROOM USING A SPELL YOU’VE NEVER CAST BEFORE.
Harry’s suspicion of Draco is a huge time suck and causes a myriad of problems in what turns out to be his final year at Hogwarts. But the real problem is Dumbledore continually insisting to Harry that Draco is totally fine and nothing that he’s doing should bug Harry all that much… because Draco is acting really suspicious all year. So telling the most curious mystery-solving kid at your school (who also happens to hate this specific student) that nothing is wrong? When said kid’s dad is currently in wizard prison for hanging out with some extremely nasty people? There had to be a better way to handle this. Maybe even a way to play up Harry’s sympathies or at least hint that there was a master plan going down that he needed to steer clear of.
Oh, and here’s an extra one that has nothing to do with human decency. It just would have been nice:
5. I’m Gay!
This one is really just a personal suggestion, seeing as it’s kinda crap that there are no visible queer characters in the Harry Potter books. There aren’t any solid hints that Albus Dumbledore is gay in all seven tomes, but Rowling has confirmed it regardless. There’s a load of subtext, for sure—his adoration of Grindelwald seems a tad fervent and obsessive in a distinctly not-friendly way—but nothing by way of him ever saying so.
And it would have been such an easy thing to slip into casual conversation, too!
“The password is ‘sherbet lemon’ which is coincidentally the name of my favorite gay bar.”
“Sorry, Harry, there are no lessons this evening as I have an unexpected hot date with the fellow working the register at Honeydukes.”
“Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! I fancy blokes!”
Yeah. That would have been awesome.
The article was originally published in August 2017.