One of the things I’ve always loved about Harry Potter is the little not-quite-clues, the throw away comments linking everything together that you only notice and realise the significance of after several rereads of the books.
There are too many examples to list them all here, like Aunt Petunia learning about Dementors by eavesdropping on Lily and “that awful boy”, who we only realise later is Snape rather than James; or the moment the Vanishing Cabinet which Draco repairs in Half-Blood Prince is mentioned getting broken way back in Chamber of Secrets, when Nearly Headless Nick gets Peeves to drop it from a great height right over Filch’s office.
But one of my favourites is the recurring references to Aberforth Dumbledore: the tiny clues to the identity of the Hog’s Head barman that were there all along.
We first learn that Dumbledore has a brother in Goblet of Fire, when he tells Harry, Ron, Hermione and Hagrid that his “own brother, Aberforth, was prosecuted for practising inappropriate charms on a goat”.
When we meet him in person at the first meeting of the DA in the Hog’s Head, he looks “vaguely familiar” to Harry – possibly because of his resemblance to Albus, or possibly because Harry saw a photograph of him only a month before: the photograph of the original Order of the Phoenix.
We also get a connection to that first description of him, as in the Hog’s Head there’s a “strong smell of something that might have been goats”.
In the Pensieve in Half Blood Prince, Dumbledore tells Tom Riddle that he is “merely friendly with the local barmen,” which is how he knows about the Death Eaters waiting for Voldemort in the Hog’s Head.
Later, at Dumbledore’s funeral, Aberforth is hiding among the long description of people attending. Rowling writes that Harry sees “… some people whom Harry merely knew by sight, such as the barman of the Hog’s Head and the witch who pushed the trolley on the Hogwarts Express”.
Putting all these together gives you just enough – if you were looking for it – to guess who he is, but they are so subtle that on first reading they just come across as passing mentions, another little detail like so many others just meant to flesh out the world Jo has built.
Other references to Aberforth mark his behind-the-scenes significance in the series. When they set up the DA, Harry has “the impression that even the barman was listening”, which leads me to wonder if it wasn’t only Mundungus and Willy Widdershins who reported what they had heard that day. I think he told Albus, and so Dumbledore knew about the DA all along; the only thing he didn’t know when everything came out was that they had named themselves “Dumbledore’s Army”, because that wasn’t decided until their first meeting in the Room of Requirement.
A year later when the trio meet Mundungus with the goods he stole from Sirius’ house, we see Aberforth talking to Mundungus. If I had one, I would bet my broomstick that this is when he buys Sirius’ two-way mirror from him, which plays an important part in the next book (in May of Deathly Hallows, he says he “bought it from Dung about a year ago”).
And he also prevents Snape from hearing all of the prophecy about Voldemort and Harry; Trelawney describes a commotion outside the door and “that rather uncouth barman standing with Snape”. If Aberforth hadn’t caught him eavesdropping, nothing would have stopped Snape telling Voldemort the entire prophecy and the whole course of the books would have been dramatically different.
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In the Harry Potter Lexicon Minute podcast you’ll hear the voices of our editors sharing some of the many little things which delight us about the Wizarding World. In each podcast, just a couple of minutes in length, we’ll talk about anything from cool trivia and interesting canon passages to the latest Wizarding World news. We hope you’ll join us! And we’d love to hear from you as well. Feel free to use the comment section on the blogpost for each podcast to post your thoughts.
Special thanks go to Felicia Cano who gave us permission to use her amazing artwork of Hermione reading a book for the logo, which was created by Kim B.
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Music: "Winter Chimes" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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