The Mystery of Aberforth
by David Haber
During the interview after the launch of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, someone asked J.K. Rowling which member of the Order of the Phoenix is her favourite. She responded:
"I keep ing all my favourite members of the Order of the Phoenix, but there is one member of the Order of the Phoenix that you have not yet met properly and you --well, you know that they are a member, but you haven't really met them properly yet and you meet them in seven, so I am looking forward to that." (CBBC, July 18, 2005)
How many members of the order have we briefly met, but not yet properly? And how many have the potential to be J.K. Rowling's favourite member of the Order? I think it's very possible that J.K. is referring to Aberforth Dumbledore, Albus Dumbledore's mysterious brother.
Dumbledore, himself, only mentions the existence of Aberforth once, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as they are trying to coax Hagrid out of his hut after he had been exposed as a Giant by Rita Skeeter in the Daily Prophet:
"My own brother, Aberforth, was prosecuted for practicing inappropriate charms on a goat. It was all over the papers, but did Aberforth hide? No, he did not! He held his head high, and went about his business as usual! Of course, I'm not entirely sure he can read, so that may not have been bravery..." (GoF pg 454/394)
The only other time Aberforth Dumbledore is mentioned directly is in the next book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, at the party at the Burrow celebrating Harry's acquittal and Ron and Hermione's prefect badges. Mad Eye Moody shows Harry a wizard photograph of the original Order of the Phoenix, and while listing the people in the photo, points out to Harry:
"That's Dumbledore's brother, Aberforth, only time I ever met him, strange bloke ..." (OotP pg 174/158)
It's interesting to note that Mad Eye confirms that Albus Dumbledore is also in the photo.
So, those are the only two times in the books that Aberforth is mentioned by name. But it's possible we know much more about Aberforth than those two mentions. There is good evidence that Aberforth is currently the barman at the Hog's Head, which places him close to Hogwarts and all the action in the books.
Even from the very first book, even before we had ever visited Hogsmeade, J.K. has wanted us to know something's up at the Hog's Head. We find out in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone that the Hog's Head is where someone sold Hagrid the dragon egg, and as Harry, Ron and Hermione are questioning Hagrid about where he got Norbert, Hagrid says:
"Yeh get a lot o' funny folk in the Hog's Head -- that's the pub down in the village." (SS/PS pg 265/193)
Several books later, in Order of the Phoenix, Hermione picks the Hog's Head as the first meeting place of what would become Dumbledore's Army, and she describes the place very similarly:
"I've told the others to meet us in the Hog's Head, that other pub, you know the one, it's not on the main road. I think it's a bit...you know...dodgy...but students don't normally go in there, so I don't think we'll be overheard." (OotP pg 335/299)
On that same page we learn one more important thing about the Hog's Head:
The Hog's Head bar comprised one small, dingy and very dirty room that smelled strongly of something that might have been goats. (OotP pg 335/299)
And we meet someone very interesting:
The barman sidled towards them out of a back room. He was a grumpy-looking old man with a great deal of long grey hair and beard. He was tall and thin and looked vaguely familiar to Harry." (OotP pg 336/300)
Obviously, these are clues pointing to the fact that this man is Aberforth, Dumbledore's brother. He is tall and thin, old, bearded, and Harry vaguely remembers him. Of course he does, he looks like Dumbledore, and Moody showed him his picture. And goats are mentioned again.
Now that we know that the Hog's Head barman is Aberforth, where else have we encountered him in the books? We know he was at Dumbledore's at the end of Half Blood Prince:
Some people whom Harry merely knew by sight, such as the barman of the Hog's Head ... (HBP pg 641/598)
But Aberforth makes one other appearance in the story, and although it's very brief, it's very important. In Half-Blood Prince, in The Seer Overheard, Professor Trelawney inadvertently tells Harry the story of how she overheard The Prophecy. She reminds us it happened in the Hog's Head (as Dumbledore has already told us at the end of Order of the Phoenix), and then in the course of remembering what happened, she says:
"...but then we were rudely interrupted by Severus Snape!" "What?" "Yes, there was a commotion outside the door and it flew open, and there was that rather uncouth barman standing with Snape, who was waffling about having come the wrong way up the stairs, although I'm afraid that I myself rather thought he had been apprehended eavesdropping on my interview with Dumbledore ..." (HBP pg 545/509)
So, at this incredibly crucial time in the story, when the prophecy is being made to Dumbledore, and being only partially overheard by Snape, which causes Snape to only partially report it to Voldemort, and causes Voldemort to mark Harry as his equal without knowing that he would do so, IT WAS APPARENTLY ABERFORTH who prevented Snape from hearing the entire prophecy. Snape was eavesdropping and Aberforth discovered him, and a commotion ensues, culminating with Aberforth and Snape bursting into the room.
In interviews, J.K. has hinted that we discover more about Dumbledore's past in Book 7, and Aberforth seems to be the perfect means of discovering more information about Dumbledore. What else does Aberforth know? Even if Dumbledore is really , it seems that Aberforth has been very closely connected with the Order's work against Voldemort all these years, and can potentially be a very big help to Harry in his quest to find the remaining horcruxes and the destruction of Voldemort.
And what of Aberforth himself? Isn't it strange that someone so learned and wise as Albus Dumbledore would have a brother who can't read? And what was Aberforth doing with those goats? Could it have anything to do with bezoars? Again, in a clue from so early in the first book, Snape teaches us:
"A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it save you from most poisons." (PS/SS pg 138/103)
Was Aberforth working for the Order of the Phoenix even then, trying to stockpile bezoars in case members of the Order were poisoned by followers of You-Know-Who, the way Ron was in Half-Blood Prince?
But the very existence of Aberforth in the story brings up a much more important question. At the end of Order of the Phoenix, via a memory in Dumbledore's pensieve, Trelawney tells us the entire prophecy:
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches...Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month s...and the Dark Lord mark him as his equal, but he have power the Dark Lord knows not...and either must at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives...The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord be born as the seventh month s..." (OotP pg 841/741)
A few pages later, Dumbledore tells us:
"He only heard the first part, the part foretelling the birth of a boy in July to parents who thrice defied Voldemort. Consequently, he could not warn his master that to attack you would be to risk transferring power to you, and marking you as his equal. So, Voldemort never knew there might be a danger in attacking you, that it might be wise to wait, to learn more." (OotP pg 843/743)
What would have happened if Dumbledore's brother had not interrupted Snape and prevented him from hearing the entire prophecy that night? Would Voldemort had acted differently had he heard the entire prophecy? How would Harry's world be different now if he had?
(Thanks to Laura Matheson for help with this article.)
Published February 18, 2007
This article is Copyright © 2007, David Haber, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission