“My dear Professor. . . [a]ll this ‘You-Know-Who’ nonsense—for eleven years I have been trying to persuade people to call him by his proper name: Voldemort.” Professor McGonagall flinched, but Dumbledore, who was unsticking two lemon drops, seemed not to notice.
Dumbledore’s impatient reproach to Professor McGonagall occurs in Chapter 1, when they and Hagrid appear in front of the Dursleys’ house to discuss the sudden tragic deaths of Harry’s parents. The passage reveals Dumbledore’s composure even after a hugely traumatic event like an evil wizard’s murder of two innocent people: he is calmly using phrases like “My dear Professor” and eating candy, while McGonagall is flinching with nervousness. We see clearly why Dumbledore is head wizard and McGonagall his subordinate.
The passage also reveals the importance of facing one’s enemies directly. For all of McGonagall’s education and expertise, she is unable to speak Voldemort’s name out loud, as are many other Hogwarts residents. The implication is that they are too scared to utter the name. Harry, we find out later, is, by contrast, not scared at all; his friends keep urging him to say “You-Know-Who” instead of “Voldemort,” but he sees no reason to do so, and keeps forgetting. When Harry calls Voldemort by his proper name, we get a hint that Harry will be the one who can face the evil wizard directly, as he in fact does when he stares at Voldemort’s face on the back of Quirrell’s head. Harry’s directness is exactly what Dumbledore is asking for from McGonagall and symbolizes the importance of confronting one’s obstacles.
Hagrid says these words to Harry in Chapter 4, after bursting into the hut on the secluded island where Mr. Dursley has brought Harry to escape the magical letters. Hagrid’s surprise at Harry’s ignorance of himself and of his family underscores the separation of the Muggle and the wizard worlds. Being famous among wizards does not necessarily imply being famous among ordinary humans. Despite all the vast powers of the wizards, the Hogwarts officials have been unable to penetrate the defenses of stupid and selfish Muggles like the Dursleys, who have, quite impressively, kept Harry’s uniqueness a secret from him for ten whole years. The intense Muggle dread of being different and the powerfully oppressive denials of how Harry is special are actually quite a match for all the wizards at Hogwarts. In Hagrid’s astonishment that one could be a wizard without realizing it, we see how stifling and constraining human society can be, at least in the Dursley household.
Hagrid’s reference to Harry’s parents in connection with Harry’s own fame foreshadows one important aspect of Harry’s upcoming adventures. His experiences at Hogwarts will prove how talented Harry is (“You’re famous”), but they will also re-establish the connection that has been lost between Harry and his real family. By learning magic, Harry will earn the right to belong again in the company of his mother and father. Harry’s education will take him not just forward to his brilliant future, but also symbolically backward to his original family.
He was wearing Professor Quirrell’s turban, which kept. . . telling him he must transfer to Slytherin at once, because it was his destiny. . . . [H]e tried to pull it off but it tightened painfully—and there was Malfoy, laughing at him. . . . [T]here was a burst of green light and Harry woke, sweating.
Harry has this dream at the end of Chapter 7, and it reveals much not only about Harry’s fate and his situation, but also about Harry’s own challenge in having to deal with such a burden. Before describing this dream, the narrator suggests that the dream comes perhaps because Harry has eaten too much, but we know better. We understand that Harry is wrestling with some very difficult issues that are affecting his dreams. His dream of Quirrell is prophetic, as Harry discovers only in Chapter 17 that Quirrell, not Snape, is behind the evil plot; perhaps he suspected Quirrell unconsciously all along. The talking turban clearly reminds us of the Sorting Hat, which represents fate for Harry in assigning him to a house at Hogwarts.
The turban also reminds us how Voldemort talks to Harry much later from under Quirrell’s turban and how Voldemort and his evil green light are also part of Harry’s fate. But even fate is not so easy to understand, as we recall that Harry is able to persuade the hat to assign him to Gryffindor rather than Slytherin; perhaps fate can be changed through personal actions, just as Harry tries to pull off the turban of destiny in his dream. Finally, the presence of Malfoy in Harry’s dream shows that his adventure in solving the Sorcerer’s Stone mystery is intertwined with his more everyday task of having social interactions, choosing friends, and facing down one’s enemies. Malfoy plays no part in Voldemort’s plot, but he seems important to Harry nevertheless, as one of the many confusing factors in Harry’s attempt to make sense of his Hogwarts experience.
Your father left this in my possession before he died. It is time it was returned to you. Use it well. A very merry Christmas to you.
This note accompanies the vanishing cloak that Harry mysteriously receives at Christmas in Chapter 12. It signals once again that Harry’s growth at Hogwarts will bring him back into contact, at least symbolically, with his long-lost parents. The cloak also becomes an important symbol of the relationship between Harry and Albus Dumbledore when we find out later that it is Dumbledore who has given the cloak to Harry. It symbolizes Dumbledore’s growing trust in Harry, as the great wizard surely knows that giving a boy the gift of invisibility is bound to lead to some naughtiness, which it in fact does. Dumbledore may caution Harry to “[u]se it well,” but in all his wisdom he must realize that Harry will use it wrongly, breaking into the restricted-books section of the library and hauling an illegal dragon across the campus.
Yet, in the long run, Dumbledore’s trust in Harry is justified, because Harry does learn finally to use the cloak—and all his magic gifts—toward the right ends. His disaster in being caught and punished after the dragon incident, when he stupidly forgets to wear the cloak, forces him to think more carefully about the consequences of his actions. We sense that Harry’s education in personal responsibility is all part of Dumbledore’s grand plan in giving Harry the cloak, because after the dragon affair Dumbledore returns the cloak to Harry neatly folded. With it, Dumbledore places his own vote of confidence in Harry.
Dumbledore makes this remark to Harry in Chapter 17, when Harry is in the hospital, in reference to the imminent death of Nicolas Flamel, Dumbledore’s old partner and inventor of the Sorcerer’s Stone. When Dumbledore announces that he and Flamel have decided to thwart Voldemort by destroying the stone, and with it the possibility of attaining eternal life, Harry realizes that Flamel will die. Flamel is effectively sacrificing himself for the good of Hogwarts and of the world, just as Jesus Christ, according to Christian belief, was supposed to have sacrificed himself for the salvation of humankind. Flamel’s decision reveals his wisdom, all the more so as Dumbledore’s words echo the thoughts of innumerable philosophers and religious figures (from the Greek Socrates to the Indian Buddha) who have similarly seen death as a beginning rather than an end.
Dumbledore’s and Flamel’s wisdom is precisely what is lacking in a villain like Voldemort, who clings unnaturally to life, refusing to accept the natural human adventure of death. By saying that a healthy acceptance of death is a characteristic of a “well-organized mind,” Dumbledore is implying that Voldemort’s manic pursuit of immortality is not well organized at all, despite all of his savvy tricks, but is rather deranged.
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