Disclaimer: This post is unapologetically about Harry Potter. It will make sense to only those who have actually read all the seven books and remember inconsequential minor details about the series. Though the general tone of the post might appeal to a wider audience, it still is full of spoilers (especially about Books 1 and 7).
I have always loved how the whole Harry Potter series is filled with hidden meanings. Not only in the narrative, not only in the way the plot reveals, even in the hidden meanings and those that are left unsaid. But the best part about the series are the fan theories, those that have managed to surprise even the author herself. Some of them are my favorites, but this one made me think. Before I go into the theory itself, we need to have some background info to refresh our memories.
In Book 1, at the time of awarding the House Cup, Dumbledore awards some last minute points to Gryffindor house, the points that finally tip the scale and take the Cup away from the winner Slytherin house. Gryffindor House stands at the last of the table with 312 points, and Slytherin at the top with 472 points. Dumbledore awards points (50 each to Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger for playing the best game of chess and using cool logic in the face of fire, 60 points to Harry Potter for pure nerve and outstanding courage) that makes the house points even.
Now, there are those fans who argue that he showed Harry Potter exceptional favoritism (a theory I disagree with, mainly because I can’t help feeling that he singled out Harry Potter as the marked man). The awarding of 60 points to Harry might suggest this. But in making the points even, Dumbledore sets the stage for his final statement, the one that is going to have the most impact. In making the points even, and in making the whole of the Gryffindor house feel that if only he had given Harry one more point, he makes the last few points much more valuable and meaningful.
Those who could add up while yelling themselves hoarse knew that Gryffindor now had four hundred and seventy-two points — exactly the same as Slytherin. They had tied for the House Cup — if only Dumbledore had given Harry just one more point.
Dumbledore raised his hand. The room gradually fell silent.
“There are all kinds of courage,” said Dumbledore, smiling. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom.”
Someone standing outside the Great Hall might well have thought some sort of explosion had taken place, so loud was the noise that erupted from the Gryffindor table. Harry, Ron, and Hermione stood up to yell and cheer as Neville, white with shock, disappeared under a pile of people hugging him. He had never won so much as a point for Gryffindor before. Harry, still cheering, nudged Ron in the ribs and pointed at Malfoy, who couldn’t have looked more stunned and horrified if he’d just had the Body-Bind Curse put on him.
“Which means,” Dumbledore called over the storm of applause, for even Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were celebrating the downfall of Slytherin, “we need a little change of decoration.”
He clapped his hands. In an instant, the green hangings became scarlet and the silver became gold; the huge Slytherin serpent vanished and a towering Gryffindor lion took its place.
Excerpt From: J.K. Rowling. 1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
In awarding the ten points to Neville Longbottom, Dumbledore changed the whole mood of the scene completely. Making Neville the star of the day, the boy who had won the points that mattered, was a great gesture by a benign headmaster. But one of my favorite fan theories suggested that, in some way, this was Dumbledore’s penance, a way of silencing his own demons.
Dumbledore’s past with Gellert Grindelwald, the man he had considered his best friend (even a tad more than that, if the author is to be believed), the man who had completely wrecked Dumbledore’s family for his own selfish needs and the man Dumbledore was hesitant to face, must have impacted this decision. Dumbledore, who once lacked the courage to face his friend-turned-foe, awards points to Neville Longbottom, the little boy of 11 who surely displayed infinitely more amount of courage than he could ever have hoped for.
In awarding the courageous boy the points that mattered, Dumbledore clearly showed what he valued the most, that in some way he acknowledged that the little boy had more courage than him. The beauty of the series is in the way each character has a fallacy, a past that is not revealed fully but still impacts the way the story develops. Dumbledore is the perfect example of how even the ‘leader’ of the ‘good side’ need not be a character with no blemishes. Each person has their own smaller agenda while fighting for the bigger cause.
Dumbledore is one the most complex characters of the whole series, next only to Severus Snape, and his actions were never fully understandable. But in this particular instance, he becomes a shadow of his self, a man filled with regrets and an age old ache that becomes his boggart, the innermost fear that comes out when he drinks the deadly potion. And in his own way, he respects the young boys who show the courage he could never have shown, the bravery he did not have.
And that is why he awarded Neville Longbottom the points that mattered. And that is why the series remains one of my all time favorites – despite it being nearly two decades since it began and 14 years since I first entered into that magical world.
The point of this post, you ask? Oh, my. I didn’t know there were so many fans for my philosophical monologues! (*self pat*)
In a way, we are all an Albus Dumbledore. In a way, we all spend our life with regrets, and though we cannot right the wrong that has already been done, we have the pricking of the conscience that urges us to do the right thing, or at least the things that might negate the effects of the mistakes we did. It might be intentional or inadvertent, but the human mind is always in repentance, in search of a closure, flying blind and trying to outdo the feelings of remorse and regrets that chase us. Our whole life is the search for inner peace, trying to make our lives so content that we could, one day, see only ourselves as we are and nothing more or less, in the mirror of Erised.