Red Hen Publications

Red Hen Publications — Commentary Collection: Potterverse Subjects - Aberforth (& the Goat)
Potterverse Subjects

Trying to make the Potterverse make sense since 2003!

Well this one is counter-indicated, but it’s far enough off-canon — or book canon, in any case — that it never got completely contradicted. A bit of refurbishment and it’s still in play. Since it was mainly for laughs in the first place, that’s heartening.

Although, it should be noted that this takes absolutely no account of the films featuring Grindelwald vs. Newt Scamander & Co. which are now taking place off in the background. This whole collection of theories has never taken account of any film versions of anything.

To my way of thinking, film is effectively authorized fanfic. It is not, and by its nature will never be the result of a “single vision” by any single author. Even if the original author does involve themselves in the production, it s never going to be entirely theirs.

So, to recap: in the interview given at the Edinburgh Festival in August of 2004 JK Rowling confirmed the fans’ suspected Aberforth sighting in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The surly barman of the disreputable Hog’s Head Pub in Hogsmead is indeed Aberforth Dumbledore.

Or is he?

Well, yes. He is. From the transcript of the Edinburgh interview, as posted on JK Rowling’s official website, the actual exchange went as follows:

Q: Why is the barman of the Hog’s Head vaguely familiar to Harry? Is he Dumbledore’s brother?

A: Ooh — you are getting good. Why do you think that it is Aberforth? [Audience member: Various clues. He smells like goats and he looks a bit like Dumbledore]. I was quite proud of that clue. That is all that I am going to say. [Laughter]. Well, yes, obviously. I like the goat clue — I sniggered to myself about that one.

Frankly, after all of that coyness, I’d be tempted to wonder whether there actually even was an Aberforth Dumbledore. Or whether his existence might be a complete fabrication that happens to serve Albus’s purposes. If it weren’t for that vintage photo of the original Order of the Phoenix, which showed both of them at the same gathering, I’d be asking whether anyone had ever seen the two Dumbledore brothers together.

Be that as it may: it is obvious that if we can trust this particular bit of information, Rowling has emptied a whole new can of worms across the game board for the fan theorists to have to get hold of, sort out, and tot up an accounting for.

• • • •

First, is Aberforth merely “the barman” of the Hog’s Head or does he actually own the place? And if he isn’t the owner, who is? And if he is the owner, for how long has he owned it? And why isn’t he stated as being the owner, by name, the way Rosemerta is at the Three Broomsticks? Is Aberforth, “the barman,” supposedly “standing in” for an absent owner? A perennially absent owner?

For that matter, is the Hog’s Head the Dumbledores’ long-standing family business? (ETA: this at least seems highly unlikely. Kendra Dumbledore removed her young family to Godric’s Hollow after the scandal of her husband’s arrest, and seems not to have run any kind of business.) And, considering the general caliber of the Hog’s Head’s clientele, is it generally known that the barman is the Headmaster’s brother? And if it isn’t known, why isn’t it known? Is Aberforth actually undercover at the Hog’s Head and going by a different name?

This general knowledge, at least, seems fairly unlikely. At first glance, one would hardly expect QuirrellMort to have deliberately chosen the Hog’s Head as the venue in which to pry information out of Hagrid with the promise of a dragon’s egg right under the Headmaster’s brother’s nose if he had known about the connection. (I’ve always suspected that Dumbledore knew about that egg. Now I’m even more convinced that the whole setup in PS/SS was elaborately rigged. Hagrid was supposed to pass Quirrell that information.)

Of course, QuirrellMort may not have had that much of a choice in venue. If he was wanting to deal with Hagrid, he was pretty much forced to go where Hagrid was known to be found.

We do know that ’Forth has been stationed there for a considerable length of time, Mundungus Fletcher got himself thrown out of the place by Aberforth some 20 years ago (i.e., while the Marauders were in school, during VoldWar I), and still hasn’t managed to get himself allowed back in.

For that matter Albus Dumbledore’s comment to Tom in HBP as to being not omniscient but merely friendly with the local barmen, could have been made as far back as 1957 (or as recently as, say, 1962), which strongly implies that Aberforth was already in place as far back as Albus’s appointment as Headmaster. That’s a long time to be camped on your own brother’s doorstep without it being general knowledge. Or is it general knowledge, and it’s just that nobody cares?

So, who ran the place before that?

For that matter, just who ran the place in 1945?

• • • •

By the close of the original canon, Rowling had finally given us the official Grindelwald backstory. And as usual for most of the threads introduced in the final three books, the final payoff wasn’t nearly as clever, or as well put together as some of the fan theories that preceded it. In particular we have very little solid information on just how this alleged final showdown between Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald was handled.

As well as just when in 1945 it is supposed to have taken place.

Did it take place right at the end of the Muggle war? Before it? After it?

Was there even a Miggle war that they had to fit this wizarding war in around the edges of?

How did this fit in with the school year? Albus was still actively teaching classes in 1945. He wasn’t the Headmaster and able to slip away for a few days without disrupting everyone’s schedule, yet.

And once this duel had taken place the whole thing was suddenly over?

Poof! Just like that a whole wizarding war is over?

An allegedly global war is suddenly over?

And just how, precisely, is a wizarding war which included such actions on the scope of building a whole new prison for the leader’s enemies manage to take place completely off the Muggle radar. Particularly since, if it had to wait for Albus to be free for the summer break it must have gone on for some months after V-E day. It begins to sound very much as though our Gellert slowly realized that he had painted himself into a corner, and that facing Albus Dumbledore and getting clapped up in his own prison was the best of his options.

Despite Rowling’s statement in 2005 that she “feels” that the ww echoes the Muggle one, and that there was a global wizarding war in progress that fed off the Muggle one — although how she thinks the totally inadequate population she says the wizarding world claims would manage to conduct such a war is unexplained — the various national Ministries of Magic still maintain no standing armies, after all.

From what we’ve seen of the modern Ministry of Magic, East European wizards, upon the whole, were unlikely to be any more concerned with the ambitions of Adolf Hitler and his handlers than British wizards were concerned with those of Neville Chamberlain. Or those of any King, Queen or Prime Minister at any point since the establishment of Wizarding Seclusion. At least not unless those ambitions were a direct threat to them.

Frankly, by this time Rowling’s “feelings” are sounding as likely as the unprompted visions of Sybil Trelawney’s “inner eye”.

However, there has probably been a never-ending magical equivalent of gang wars in the wizarding world. Voldemort’s activities being a case in point. Grindelwald’s may well have been just such another. If that prison was in a sufficiently remote spot, its construction could possibly have taken place off the Muggle radar.

In the original seven books, however, we have no solid indication that Grindelwald operated in the same style as Tom. And indeed Rowling implied not. Plus, a gang war is hardly “global”. For all that Rowling claims that Grindelwald really was mixed up in whatever the wizards of Europe were brangling over at the same time that their Muggle compatriots were engaged in WWII — whatever it might have been — she hasn’t yet offered any plausible candidates for what it was. And outside of films, isn’t really likely to.

But then plausibility under closer examination is not one of Rowling’s strong points, is it?

• • • •

So. Did the Hog’s Head discretely pass into the Dumbledore brothers’ hands sometime after the end of WWII — off the public record — and they deliberately chose to leave the “ambiance” as is, and use it as a resource to keep an eye on the kind of people who had formerly made it their “base”? Or did Aberforth simply buy it as some point and the ambiance is just a case of water seeking its own level?

Was Aberforth in place at the Hog’s Head, as an employee, even before Albus started at Hogwarts as an instructor? From Albus’s jokes at his brother’s expense it doesn’t sound like Aberforth stayed in school to sit his NEWTs. Nor does it sound like he would have had any wish to live in the same household as Albus after their sister died, either. He could have settled in Hogsmeade taking care of livestock and doing odd jobs after sitting his OWLs the year after Ariana’s death, and never went back to Godric’s Hollow ever again.

And then there is the question of the Hog’s Head’s clientele.

In order for the place to still attract the sort of dodgy customers who clearly frequent it, one assumes that if Aberforth is known to be Dumbledore’s brother, their very public falling-out (back in the 19th century) must also still be known by someone. Otherwise you could hardly imagine the likes of Willy Widdershins making it a favored hangout. To say nothing of Tom Riddle and his crowd, back in the day. Or for QuirrellMort to be making use of it in ’91–’92.

And yet, Aberforth is, or was, a Member of the Order of the Phoenix.

Which, perhaps, could explain why Mad-Eye Moody claims to have only met him the once. Aurors are clearly not welcome, in the general run of things, at the Hog’s Head.

• • • •

Upon the whole, I think that the relationship between the two brothers was known. As was their long ago falling out. In point of fact, I suspect that there was not even a ghost of a chance of that falling out being even slightly eased until after Albus had deat with Gellert in ’45. Aberforth has a long memory, and I don’t think his nature is particularly forgiving. In the public eye, Albus simply dropped in once and a while for a drink — or, as he says, he appeared to.

Which raises the nagging question of why Quirrell chose it as a meeting place. By most accounts, Professor Quirrell himself was a reasonably virtuous young man — before he was gotten at and taken over by Voldemort — and the Hog’s Head’s unsavory reputation is hardly a recent development. Not to mention that he is generally agreed to have been a teacher at Hogwarts before his fatal sabatical. Did he set that meeting up strictly because Hagrid was known to hang out there periodically (in some capacity of messenger between the Dumbledore brothers?), or because of the fact that it is the most dodgy location he knew about without ever having really been there, beyond poking his nose in to see what it was like? Ultimately choosing that for his meeting place simply because he could conduct the meeting in disguise there, without comment?

And rather more importantly, the fact that Voldemort didn’t warn Quirrell off from using the Hog’s Head for this purpose strongly suggests that he still either doesn’t know that the barman is Dumbledore’s brother, or believes them to still be at loggerheads. Which, if Aberforth took up that post after Tom finished school in ’45 and skipped off to London, or after he dropped out of sight around ’47–’50, and before “Lord Voldemort” surfaced some ten years later might make sense. Conversely, if Aberforth has been a fixture in Hogsmead since around 1900, well before Albus ever took up a teaching post, The villagers might know of the relationship, but it is such old news that no one thinks to mention it. In which case, I suspect that the Hog’s Head could have been an invaluable source of useful information all through VoldWar I.

Or before. If Albus Dumbledore had already refused the position of Minister for Magic three times before finally being offered the post he really wanted, then he was probably a member in good standing of the Wizengamot for decades before that business with Grindelwald. And Albus is the kind of politico who wants to keep an eye on his constituency. All of his constituency. Particularly the dodgy element. Even if he doesn’t intend to do anything about them.

Ergo; the simplest line to draw, is to conclude that Aberforth has been off-and-on serving as his brother’s agent since at least the beginning of “Lord Voldemort’s” first rise, if not longer. He has very probably conducted himself in a manner which would either allay any suspicion that he is related to the Headmaster at all, or to cause any of his target customer base that has a clue to suppose that he adamantly opposes his bother and all his works. And indeed, what he actually has to say about his brother is both highly uncomplimentary and pretty clearly his truthful opinion, and no kind of an act at all.

But I suspect that he may have privately reported back to Albus at least some of what he overhears. Sometimes through Hagrid, who has also been in the area, year round, and not confined to the school property, ever since 1943 (and was of age by wizarding standards by 1946). Hagrid apparently makes a regular look-in at the place, and his presence there arouses no suspicions.

(I always did suspect that one of those four “secret” tunnels on the Marauder’s map that the Weasleys avoided because Filch already knows about them could have ended up at the Hog’s Head. It now seems that wasn’t quite the case — although we don’t know for certain. But the entry from the Room of Requirement, pretty clearly bypassed whatever alternate access Filch might have known about.)

• • • •

One also wondered whether we would ever get an answer to what was going on with the goat.

One of my fellow regulars on a discussion board once posted a rather fun piece of information from folklore.

It seems that the Norse god Odin had a goat.

I already knew that the Norse god Thor had a chariot that was drawn by goats. Also that whenever he and his companions got stranded, they would butcher, roast, and eat one of them, and bring it back to life the next day, and travel on. But Odin’s goat served a different purpose.

It gave mead instead of milk.

Now, that certainly sounds like an inappropriate charm, doesn’t it?

But one that you might expect from a bartender.

And there is no question but that Rowling has an extensive knowledge of folklore.

Still, the truth is more likely to turn out to be something rather more pedestrian; possibly on the order of old ’Forth doing a brisk little side business (on the black market or otherwise) producing and selling bezoars.

Never the less, I remain rather fond of the following explanation. It’s been posted here since the original version of the collection went up in 2003, and is probably completely wrong. But I still like it. And it’s not like we will ever probably learn the truth of the matter...

• • • •

The rest of this actually qualifies as fiction, although it is closer to being of a drabble than a story.

Its antecedents are impeccable, being based upon an observation by no less than the “big-name-Fan”/author known as Textualsphinx.

The way it came about was; an online discussion was underway in the old Café Dangereux (now long departed), soon after the release of Phoenix, regarding the suspected Aberforth sighting, (primarily thanks to the Hog’s Head’s pervading smell of goats, but it must be recalled that Harry also thought that the barman himself looked vaguely familiar). In the course of this, Textualsphinx commented:

“All this stuff on goats reminds me of the Chagall exhibition I went to this summer with my sister. It was only by seeing so many of the paintings all at once that the guy’s obsession with them became apparent. We ended up approaching each room muttering “Cherchez la chêvre”, and we always found one hanging around somewhere. Usually the sky. (Musta bin an inappropriate charm...)”

Upon which I was bitten by the “silly bug”.

• • • •

We all know that the Potterverse is not really our world, but there are so many similarities.

It also seems apparent that as many of our Muggle notables would have had counterparts in the Potterverse as the fact that many of the legendary wizards from our folklore were, in that universe, real people.

There is no reason why Marc Chagall might not have been one of the Muggle notables with a Potterverse counterpart.

Young Marc Chagall, in our world at least, was Russian-born, and made two distinctly separate pilgrimages to Paris. The first, as a very young man, in 1910 found him settled in the same district on the Left Bank as a number of other notable names from the Post-Impressionist period, among them being Modigliani, he of the painting of a nude on a cushion.

Chagall, most unfortunately, made an ill-timed visit home to Russia in 1914, found himself conscripted into the first World War, and did not return to Paris until the 1920s, by which time he was already drawing goats.

And so it goes. Herein follows the tale of:

Aberforth Dumbledore and the Goat

The City of Paris occupies a low-lying river valley. And, in the manner of other great Cities similarly situated, along the Thames, the Hudson, the Potomac, and others too numerous to mention, it has all the potential of becoming utterly, unremittingly, humidly miserable during the months of high summer. Traditionally, any of the citizens of such cities with the means and the resources necessary, have retired to their country estates during this period to avoid unhealthy “miasma’s,” and the epidemic diseases said to be spread by them, only returning to the Metropolis with the advent of cooler weather in the Autumn.

In the days before widespread air conditioning, those without such properties might still desperately scrape the money together to rent a country cottage and try to manage to retreat from summer in the City for at least a few weeks. In the case of the “bohemian” poor, several individuals or couples might pool their resources in order to do so, citing the opportunity to engage in plein air painting as a justification — although the various Post-Impressionist art movements were far less dependent upon this technique than the Impressionists had been.

We may conclude that the very young Marc Chagall was among one of those composite bohemian households in the summer of 1911, for that was the year that Aberforth Dumbledore was holidaying in France.

Goats have a reputation for being highly eccentric animals, given to odd starts and bizarre — which is to say, “capricious” behavior. Aberforth Dumbledore approves of goats — which he regards in the light of his “totem animal”. Were he a Muggle in the late 20th century, his home would no doubt be cluttered with goat figurines and goat-referencing slogans on refrigerator magnets, or T-shirts, and whenever any of his drinking buddies (or, more typically, their lady friends) came across a new piece of goat-themed clutter they would think no further about what to do about ’Forth’s next birthday or Whatsmas present.

In any event, in the summer of 1911 Aberforth Dumbledore was holidaying in the south of France in a lovely pastoral area, taking his ease and admiring the scenery. As were the usual compliment of plein air painters and their friends, hangers-on, and what not, young Marc Chagall among them. Although he and Aberforth probably did not ever actually meet.

One morning toward the end of his stay, Aberforth was strolling along a country lane and passed an orchard where a number of goats were grazing under the trees, feasting on windfall fruit. As always, when encountering goats — which are all somewhat mad, one of the reasons ’Forth so enjoys watching them — Aberforth stopped for a while to observe, and see whether any of them were exercising their goat-given gift for eccentric behavior.

And, indeed, one of them was. One of the goats had evidently decided that the windfall fruit wasn’t good enough for it and had reared up on its hind legs with its forelegs braced against the tree trunk and was straining to get at the fruit still on the tree. This tickled ’Forth’s sense of humor and he cast a hover charm on the goat, who — taking this perfectly in stride — immediately “walked” up the tree trunk and started gorging itself on the fruit still ripening on the tree.

’Forth hung around for a while watching the goat leap from tree to tree sampling the crop. Soon enough, however, this reminded him that he was getting hungry himself, so he wandered off for lunch. He no doubt intended to come back later and dispel the charm, but he got into a quarrel with the waiter, stormed off fuming, and it completely slipped his mind. It was several days before a rumor of the “flying goat” made its way back to the French Ministry of Magic.

By that time ’Forth had ended his holiday and was back in Britain, which snowballed his lapse into an “International Incident” once the French Ministry finally traced him, and demanded that the British Ministry “do something” about it. Under such circumstances, the British Ministry couldn’t very well dodge their responsibility, and issued a very stern public reprimand, as well as a fine, and the affair got into the Prophet and was very embarrassing for the more conventional of Aberforth’s acquaintance, and the people who knew him socially. Although, evidently, not well enough to simply regard the whole incident as being “typical Aberforth” and to dismiss it.

Aberforth, who has never had any time for the Prophet, paid the fine and ignored the whole thing.

The French Ministry, did a very good job of tracking down the Muggles who were suspected of having seen the flying goat. But they missed a few, since many of the artists and their friends had returned to Paris by then, and their households had been so haphazard that it would have been next to impossible to determine just who those households had been composed of at any given time of with any sort of accuracy.

Although it is altogether possible that the Ministry did actually catch up to Chagall and his friends. Magical technology is every bit as much of an ongoing process as any other variety; the form of Obliviate which was generally in use on the Continent in 1911 had the drawback of exhibiting a pronounced tendency to allow the information so suppressed to break through in dreams.