PDay Minus Five: Prediction #3 “Mistaken Identities”

Monday of Potter Week and we’re up to the third Five Keys Prediction for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This one will cause a lot of eyeball rolling and dilatory disputation, if the latter is possible when much of Deathly Hallows has supposedly been posted online, because the subject of “Mistaken Identities” is not a “no-brainer,” especially when it comes to naming names.

Here, then, is my disclaimer about these predictions.

I’m not a brilliant writer of fiction as is Ms. Rowling and I am not a wizard. When I make predictions, consequently, I’m not doing this with the serious intention of hitting bulls eyes. I’m firing at a target in a dark forest, and, while the target is fixed, not moving, I can’t see it and I don’t know where it is. I’ll be delighted and as surprised as anyone if I am correct in the details of any of my predictions. Outside of a few “hits” in the past (Snape as Half-Blood Prince, Ron and Ginny as “Quarreling Couple,” Death of Dumbledore, weather predictions, etc.), all my plot point predictions have been wrong.

Why do I bother?

My intention in making these predictions is to illustrate the Five Keys that open up or “unlock” Harry Potter for the serious reader. I’ve tried to make the best-guesses fun and engaging, even credible because they are detailed rather than formless generalities, but they’re just mind-grabbing illustrations of the Five Keys. The specifics are almost certainly wrong but the Five Keys the predictions exemplify are very valuable (read Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader to see what I’m talking about!).

Back to “Mistaken Identities.”

In the “Hero’s Journey” chapter of Unlocking Harry Potter, I detail the repeated cycles, patterns, and story points that Ms. Rowling uses in most every book. One of the most interesting of the story points that she uses is “Mistaken Identities.” The existence of Polyjuice Potion, Animagi, and simpler Transfiguration spells mean that Hogwarts School specifically (and the Wizarding World in general) is not a place where you can be sure the person you’re speaking with or just seeing is the person you think you’re seeing or talking to.

We learned about Polyjuice Potion in Chamber of Secrets when our precocious trio brewed some up in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. The Potion became the means by which Barty Crouch, Jr. deceived us all in Goblet of Fire. We see a cauldron full of the stuff again in Half-Blood Prince and Crabbe and Goyle seem to be making generous use of it to act as watch-girls in front of the Room of Requirement.

We meet our first Animagi in the first chapter of Philosopher’s Stone when Professor MacGonagall appears as a cat on the Dursley’s garden wall with Dumbledore. This hallmark of the mage accomplished in Transfiguration becomes the centerpiece of the storyline in Prisoner of Azkaban and plays a lesser but still important role in Goblet. Every student and teacher, of course, while perhaps not capable of brewing Polyjuice Potion or transforming themselves into an Animagus form, has studied Potions and Transfiguration and is capable of deceptive Switching Spells and the like.

The Ministry has tried to put restrictions in place so this sort of deception remains somewhat limited (and well-regulated). When Voldemort returns, however, the bureaucrats understand that the Dark Lord and his Deatheaters are not going to register themselves as Animagi or lay off the Polyjuice Potion. Half-Blood Prince opens, consequently, with several pointed references to Ministry publications and wall-hangings urging the law-abiders not to trust their sense perceptions. They are urged to test the people they meet to be certain they are not being deceived by a Deatheater. Dumbledore speaks to Harry about this and he sees the Weasley parents ask each other for passwords.

But, outside of Crabbe and Goyle, no one is using Polyjuice Potion or other cloaking devices in Half-Blood Prince, right? None that are revealed at the end of the book the way Barty Crouch, Jr., was revealed certainly. Could there have been other folks that we didn’t learn about at the end of the book?

Oh, yeah. The patterns Ms. Rowling uses (in addition to the emphasis she gives the possibility in the opening chapters of Prince) in all the books almost make it a certainty that we’ll learn in Deathly Hallows who was pretending to be who in Half-Blood Prince. The last stage of Alchemical Drama reveals what really happened in the next to last stage. As explained in Prediction #2 yesterday, narrrative misdirection in its reminding us that we don’t know, even that we cannot know what is real is a vehicle of one of Ms. Rowling’s postmodern themes, epistemology division. “Mistaken Identities” deliver the same freight; you’re deluded if you believe what you think you are seeing or what you know “for sure.”

For your consideration, I nominate the following Prince characters as possible Polyjuice imposters:

(1) Horace Slughorn:

Every ‘New Guy’ or ‘New Gal’ that we’ve met each year at Hogwarts (besides the substitute Care of Magical Creatures lady…) has had a secret and it has been a mind-blower. Quirrelldemort, Gilderoy the Memory Fraud, Lupin the Werewolf, Crouch/Moody, and Deranged Dolores the Dementor Dispatcher. Everybody new except, it seems, Horace Slughorn.

Is he a Deatheater undercover at Hogwarts? He could be the source of Draco’s Polyjuice Potion and his gode, a Dark Lord monitor on Severus, and the assassin trying to kill Harry and Ron with the poisoned mead on Ron’s birthday. His “giving” Harry the Horcrux memory was probably only on the instruction of his Master if Sluggo is evil; certainly he wasn’t drunk under the table by a boy teetotaler (or unaware that Harry was on a Felix Felicis high).

Or is Horace one of the White Hats? Sally Gallo makes an excellent case from canon and historical evidence in Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? that it is Professor Slughorn on the Astronomy Tower polyjuicing the Headmaster. The stage magician on which Mrs. Gallo thinks Sluggo is based, Horace Goldin, had as his most-famous trick the show stopper of catching a bullet fired at his heart from a gun with a wedgewood plate. Dumbledore and Snape have a plan to defeat Voldemort; it seems likely that they had to have help, especially if Dumbledore’s Drop was a staged event. Sluggo seems a believable possibility.

Either way, we should be learning more from and about Slughorn in Deathly Hallows.

(2) Sybill Trelawney:

Draco says that he has better help inside Hogwarts than his friends Crabbe and Goyle. Was he lying? If not, who could he have meant if Slughorn is not his ally?

I think Bellatrix LeStrange is on deck. She’s noticeably absent from the fray at the Astronomy Tower stairs. She is Voldemort’s “right hand.” We see her in the second chapter of Prince, “Spinner’s End,” express her distrust of Snape and her shared concerns for her nephew, Draco. What better person to put undercover at Hogwarts?

And Trelawney would be a snap to capture and to play convincingly. The Divinations teacher has few friends and is an incompetent teacher without a full class load. With a little cooking sherry to blur the edges of her already eccentric and irregular appearance, and no one would like twice at her.

And then there’s the scene at the Room of Requirement the night Harry goes Horcrux Hunting with the Headmaster….

Sybill makes a loud noise just as Harry is passing that way in his headlong rush to the Headmaster’s Office. He has been trying to get into the Room of Requirement all year with no luck — and, now, he finally has the knowledge he needs to get in because of what the drunken Divinations Diva tells him! Incredibly, he balks, and, for perhaps the first time in his life, does the responsible go-to-Dumbledore thing. He half-drags Trelawney with him until she drops a dime on Snape, as the person who overheard the Prophecy.

If this really is Trelawney, the coincidences are stacked pretty high. She just happens to be there exactly when Harry is passing by. She knows what Harry has wanted to learn all year. She turns the conversation to Severus Snape and the night she was the channel of the Prophecy, the one thing guaranteed to light Harry’s internal Roman Candle.

Now look at it from the perspective of Bellatrix polyjuicing Trelawney.

The Vanishing Cabinets have been fixed. The Execution of Dumbledore plan is in motion for that night. What variable do the bad guys want off-campus to improve their chances of pulling off this invasion and assassination? Harry Potter. Chucklehead and clueless he may be, but the Chosen One has a heck of a track record in fighting Deatheaters. The Black Hats want Harry to Vanish.

Enter Bellatrix at the Room of Requirements door. A stooge at the Gryffindor Common Room door could use a Malfoy enchanted coin to alert those inside the Room of Requirement that Harry was on his way. Bellatrix makes her crashing noise to get Harry’s attention and gives him the information he needs to get inside and check out what Draco is up to. And Harry has his uncharacteristic moment of good judgment!

Bellatrix P!Trelawney, though, is no dope. If you cannot get Harry into a Vanishing Cabinet, a good second-best option is create havoc in Harry’s heart, not to mention among the Order of the Phoenix folks in the castle. Drop the Dumbledore-Knows-Snape-Betrayed-Your-Parents Bomb! BOOM! That worked. Harry goes off into the mental space of no-maps. Mission as good as accomplished.

The real Trelawney, of course, unless Dumbledore was lying about what Severus heard of the Prophecy (a real possibility), could not have seen Snape at the end of the Prophecy. The Red Hen has conjectured that Severus wasn’t there at all and that Dumbledore and Snape made up the fiction of his only overhearing half the Prophecy. P!Trelawney, though, only knows what Voldemort told her, which was almost certainly Dumbledore’s story of Snape on the landing outside the door. She turns it into a tale where Trelawney sees Snape after the Prophecy is finished in order to create maximum damage to Harry’s trust in Dumbledore and Snape on the night of the battle.

Last week, I read that Ms. Rowling called the actress who played Bellatrix in Phoenix to encourage her to take the part, despite the paucity of lines or time on-screen. Ms. Rowling is supposed to have said that Bellatrix will play a major part in Deathly Hallows so it would be worth it to do the bit piece in Phoenix.

How about Bellatrix P!Trelawney revealed early on at Hogwarts, in addition to her inevitable confrontation with Neville? Good parts.

(3) Remus Lupin:

This is not my theory, alas, though I’d love to claim it. Reading it for the first time was a big push toward my collecting the speculative essays that became Who Killed Albus Dumbledore?. The author, a Live Journal writer who goes by Swythyv, has a way of writing that demands and delights repeated reading. That she usually knocks my socks off with things I missed (and never would have thought of) adds to the attraction. You can read her musings at three sites: the WKAD Live Journal, at hp_essays, and on her own Live Journal. The original Mourning for Her Own True Love can be read at HP-Essays along with Swythyv’s and Professor Mum’s modification of this theory. If you have Who Killed Albus Dumbledore?, you have the LP version and all the bells and whistles.

In a nutshell, Lupin isn’t Lupin in Half-Blood Prince, it’s Pettigrew P!Lupin.

Can’t get your head around that, even after reading “Mourning for Her Own True Love”? How about Lupin plays Nymphadora Tonks through most of Half-Blood Prince? I won’t diminish your reading pleasure by laying out Swythyv’s speculative arguments; there’s a pond of Polyjuice Potion at Hogwarts Castle and Lupin or someone playing Lupin is drinking from it.

(4) Severus Snape:

Snape leaves Hogwarts at the end of Half-Blood Prince as the Judas and Brutus of the story, both betrayer and assassin. A thoughtful woman at Enlightening 2007 pointed out to me that it isn’t the “New Guy” or “New Gal” at Hogwarts that was always carrying a secret; it’s the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. She suggested that Horace, consequently, was just what he seemed to be (Pineapple Pimp?) and that Severus Snape was the teacher with a secret in Prince.

It seemed to work that way, didn’t it? Did any of you expect Severus to blast Albus or an Albus stand-in from the Tower? Not me, and I had been predicting Dumbledore’s death for three years at that point.

And if Snape turns out to be Good!Snape rather than EVIL!Snape or even if he is just Machiavelli!Snape, that, too, will make him the teacher with a surprise-inside. A Cracker Jack box with an M-80 inside, the “big twist” of the whole series…

And, yes, I’m still holding out on the long-shot that Severus is a half-Vampire. Not only does this theory bring the Potions genius into the fold of liminal characters on the Good Guys side (Half-Giant, Half-Veela, Werewolf, Blood Traitors, Mudblood, Criminal, Metamorphmagus, et alii), it gives us a ledge on which to stand if we think Lily was someone Snape admired, even loved. Could Lily have been the Potions adept that invented the pastie given to Sanguini at the Prince Christmas Party to calm the savage Neck Biter?

Just a thought!

(5) Albus Dumbledore:

Last but not least, we have the Hogwarts Headmaster.

What sort of “mistaken identity” can there be about dear, old Albus? Two sorts.

First, is the wizard who seems to be Albus Dumbledore in Half-Blood Prince really Albus Dumbledore? I doubt it. Professor Mum was the first Harry Potter maven I know that argued cogently that the Dumbledore on the Horcrux Hunt to the Cave was actually Severus Snape getting Harry out of the castle for the same reason that Bellatrix wanted him out of the castle (the melodrama they had planned on the Tower couldn’t happen without Harry arriving with webcam from Hogsmeade). Really, it is as likely that Severus plays P!Albus throughout Half-Blood Prince (which would give the Scholastic cover with P!Albus over the Birdbath from Hell an especially delicious after-taste, Snape being the Half-Blood Prince).

Re-read the visit with the Dursleys. Does Dumbledore dance glasses against the heads of Muggles? Try again. And the tutorials with Harry? Does Albus give impossible missions, no guidance, and then admonish failure? No, but Severus polyjuicing Dumbledore might.

Why would Severus be Polyjuicing Dumbledore?

(1) Dumbledore is out doing something more important, e.g., finding and destroying Horcruxes;

(2) Snape must know everything said exactly as it was said to Potter because it is being scar-cast to Lord Voldemort;

(3) Dumbledore is near death or already dead and unable to swing the Pensieve and Cave trips; or

(4) All of the above.

I lean to “(4) All of the above.” Which brings us to another way of mistaking Dumbledore’s identity in Half-Blood Prince. One way is thinking that the man who seems to be the Hogwarts Headmaster pursuing the Mistress of Adventure is really Albus Dumbledore rather than someone else, probably Severus or Horace polyjuicing him. The other way is assuming that Dumbledore is alive at any time in Half-Blood Prince.

Cut back to Severus. When I said one reason to think that Snape was a Half-Vampire was that it would make him a match for the Order of the Phoenix cast of misfits, note the parenthetic list of freaks in the Order. They are all liminal figures who straddle two worlds, often in their very being.

Wouldn’t it be weird if their leader were a pure-blood wonder who didn’t personify their duality? I guess you could say, “Well, Voldemort is a mudblood and he leads the pureblood faction of Wizards; why couldn’t Dumbledore be similarly different from his flock?” A possible parallel but Dumbledore as double-natured character I think resonates with his followers in the Order and with Ms. Rowling’s use of him as a Christ figure in the books as well.

In brief, Albus Dumbledore is straddling the worlds of life and death. He is dead in Prince and perhaps has been dead for quite a few books, his demise coming sometime after the Philosopher’s Stone was destroyed. He is not, however, “dead and gone.” Severus has stoppered his death, as he said he could in the ever-referenced first Potions class with Harry, and Dumbledore “lives on” in a state of suspended de-animation and very much attached to Severus, for obvious reasons. [I explain Cathy Leisner’s “Stoppered Death” theory at length in both Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? and Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader.]

This explains Dumby’s comments to Voldemort in their battle in the Ministry about death not being so bad and his telling Draco “they cannot kill you if you are already dead.” This would explain the seeming murder on the Tower; Dumbledore is dead before the drama begins so Severus cannot kill him. Perhaps he “severs” their tie and releases Dumbledore at last — or maybe he just knocks the Headmaster over the wall of the Tower to continue his stoppered existence until he chooses to walk through the Veil, on his own terms, in pursuit of that next great adventure.

Rowling wasn’t lying when she said Dumbledore is “definitely dead.” But she was careful not to say either that the Rushdies were wrong in their theory of Snape’s innocence when charged with murder or that Dumbledore died on the Tower.

And Dumbledore being the bridge between the living and the dead won’t “obviously” make him Jesus (cf, Ms. Rowling’s comment to Lev Grossman, atheist, in 2005). But his overcoming death after a fashion won’t diminish that reading of his character either, “obviously.”

Prediction #3 is that we’ll learn the several mistaken identities we missed in Half-Blood Prince and perhaps a couple unique to the struggles and characters of Deathly Hallows. I’m almost certainly wrong about some or all the characters I suggest above are not who they seem to be. I’d bet Dumbledore’s withered arm, though, that the Keys of Narrative Misdirection, Postmodern Themes, and Traditional Symbolism that point to this possibility are spot-on.

I look forward to reading your ideas about the folks we mistook in Prince as well as your thoughts about my best guesses.

Accio Deathly Hallows!


  1. Travis Prinzi says

    John, I don’t doubt that “mistaken identity” will continue to play a role into Deathly Hallows, probably a bigger role than any of my predictions have anticipated. I’m not quite as averse to the ideas as I once was, and I’m fully prepare to eat my words on the issue. But until Saturday, I might as well keep offering the counterpoints for the sake of discussion!

    I’ll only respond to one point here, as I’ve already responded at length to the P!Dumbledore theories elsewhere, and find P!Lupin to be little more than baseless conjecture.

    I’m not convinced that it would have been impossible for Trelawney to have known Snape was the snoop. On the contrary, it would have been rather impossible for her to have not known Snape was the snoop. The idea that Snape could have heard the first couple lines, been apprehended by Aberforth and chucked from the building by the time the prophecy ended doesn’t work. So it just makes sense that Snape was still struggling with Aberforth when the Prophecy ended. It also makes sense that, as he was in the process of wrestling with Aberforth, that he didn’t hear the second part of the prophecy.

    So Trelawney’s and Dumbledore’s accounts don’t contradict each other in the least; quite the opposite, they complement each other.

  2. I think the Red Hen’s idea that Severus was not present and that Dumbledore and he invented the whole “partially overheard” narrative much more likely. If Joyce is reading this, I hope she can catch up with her thinking. What’s your current take on the Prophecy Eaves-Dropping?

  3. Just a thought on Lupin: I was rereading Prisoner of Azkaban, and when Harry, Ron, and Hermione enter the train compartment with Professor Lupin sleeping in the corner, Harry’s Sneakoscope goes nuts. The trio attribute this to the Sneakoscope being a cheap, unreliable piece of junk. Perhaps it was just because Lupin was a man with a secret, a closet werewolf, even though he turns out to be a good guy. Or could it be that this was an early clue that there is something about Lupin that is actually untrustworthy?

  4. I agree with the general theory that there are mistaken identities yet to uncover. Disagree with the specifics, though.

    First, Slughorn. Assuming that each DADA teacher holds a secret (a little iffy for Umbridge, even accounting for the Dementor attack) I figure he’s already given up his: he’s the one who helped turn Tom Riddle onto Horcruxes, to his eternal regret (and possible damnation). Also, despite the creepy ‘oho!’, it’s very unlikely that Slughorn is P!Dumbledore.
    Logically, if Slughorn as P!Dumbledore dies on/falling off the tower, who is the Slughorn who confers with the staff and attends the funeral afterwards? And more importantly, the person on the tower is pure Dumbledore – the grace under pressure, the humour, as well as the compassion and mercy. And as importantly, the scene on the tower is one of the best JKR has written. Would she waste her best lines on an imitation?

    Second, Bellatrix as Sybill T. I don’t think Ms. B. is capable of controlling herself to the extent of pretending to be such a housemouse as Ms. S. for any length of time. But then, Barty Crouch Jr also seemed a bit of a loose cannon, yet successfully fooled everyone as Moody for 10 months, so I guess if JKR wills it, it can be. However, the reasoning that P!Sybill spills the Snape as betrayer beans to Harry at just the right moment doesn’t really work for me. I think there is an important dramatic reason for the revelation: Harry needs to get really torqued up against Snape before the end.

    Third, Pettigrew as P!Lupin? Sounds like pure speculation, although no doubt wonderfully reasoned.

    Fourth: Snape has a secret: he’s a half-vampire. Well, Severus has enough secrets that being a half-vampire could just be filed away under the under “half’s”, including half-blood, half-DE, half OP, half-saint and half-sinner. My point is that he already straddles many worlds, without having another dichotomy wished upon him.

    Fifth. Either Dumbledore was a P!Dumbledore, or Dumbledore died at some earlier point. P!Dumbledore is really clever, and there is some evidence for it, but see point 1 above. Not only can you not waste your best lines on an imitation, you can not mess with people’s emotions like that and afterwards say “Just fooling, folks!” Also, logically, whoever P!Dumbledore was, that person couldn’t have been around afterwards. And all the usual suspects were.

    However, I do think there was on P! character at the finale of HBP. I think it was Flitwick. Reason? Why would Good Snape stun the real Flitwick when the latter came to tell him that DE’s were attacking? Or rather, why would JKR have Good Snape stun the real Flitwick? To keep Flitwick and the watchers in the hall occupied and out of the way is the only reason I can come up with. Is that a good enough explanation?

    I’ll know soon enough.

  5. Having just read this article and it’s big brother at the end of “Five Keys”, I’m left wondering if the “Polyjuice Express” version of the story could be done without utterly baffling the pre-teen readers that are at least part of the books’ stated audience.

    These theories may be absolutely brilliant – but could the brilliance be too clever by half?

    It’s still so much fun. And hard to believe that after all these years, most of this speculation will be over in just five days.

  6. I think, personally, that all these doublings and mistaken identities point to a huge secret that will be revealed at the end. IM (very )HO, the prophecy was never about Harry at all. until Voldemort made it so by his actions. It was about Severus.

    And I will (as with my other wild and not-so-wild ideas) be SO THRILLED if I’m right. 😉

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