His brother seems to think that he can't.

"My own brother, Aberforth, was prosecuted for practising inappropriate charms on a goat. It was all over the papers, but did Aberforth hide? No, he did not! He held his head high and went about his business as usual! Of course, I'm not entirely sure he can read, so that may not have been bravery..."
(Goblet of Fire, Chapter 24, Rita Skeeter's Scoop).

Do we have any objective answer as to whether or not Aberforth can actually read?

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    He attended - and likely completed his education at - Hogwarts, which seems like it wouldn't be possible if he was unable to read (just based on how much reading Harry had to do during his time there, and how unlikely the wizarding world seems to be to accommodate learning difficulties). I'm not sure there's any conclusive evidence to prove that, though. – Anthony Grist Feb 14 '18 at 14:59
  • @AnthonyGrist Good point. I hadn't thought of that. Reading and writing seem to be required skills for new students. – The Dark Lord Feb 14 '18 at 16:35
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    @AnthonyGrist if a person was diagnosed by a healer as having difficulty to read then it's reasonable that arrangements were made. After all, Hogwarts is not Oxford, it is not recommended to leave a person with magical abilities untrained and uncontrolled, and performing the spells doesn't require literacy. .. – user68762 Feb 14 '18 at 19:50
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    Sounds like JK retconned Aberforth. An illiterate goat-molester he was not, in the final book. – WakeDemons3 Feb 14 '18 at 20:41


This line from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows allows for the possibility that he can read:

"Mr. Dumbledore?" said Hermione rather timidly. "Is that your sister? Ariana?"
"Yes," said Aberforth tersely. "Been reading Rita Skeeter, have you, missy?"
Even by the rosy light of the fire it was clear that Hermione had turned red.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, chapter 28: "The Missing Mirror" (emphasis added)

Aberforth is shown as... not being very social, especially now that he thinks that the Death Eaters have won. It's possible that he read Rita Skeeter's book and thus knew that she had mentioned Ariana. Of course, he could have heard that she was in there from some other source, but I think it's likely that he read the book.

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    could be that Aberforth listened to the wizard variation of the radio (WWN) or overheard some gossip as the bartender of the Hog's Head Inn... – user68762 Feb 14 '18 at 15:53

He probably could read - if he couldn’t, Skeeter would’ve said.

Aberforth attended Hogwarts, for at least until the duel that resulted in his sister Ariana’s death and falling out with his brother Albus. After their mother died, Albus stayed with their sister so Aberforth could stay in school.

“I’d have looked after her, I told him so, I didn’t care about school, I’d have stayed home and done it. He told me I had to finish my education and he’d take over from my mother.”

Albus had already graduated when their mother died, and Aberforth started at Hogwarts three years after his brother, so he’d have been attending Hogwarts for at least four years, even if he did quit as soon as he fell out with his brother.

“Three years after we had started at Hogwarts Albus’s brother, Aberforth, arrived at school. They were not alike; Aberforth was never bookish and, unlike Albus, preferred to settle arguments by duelling rather than through reasoned discussion.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 2 (In Memoriam)

So if he was indeed illiterate, at least some people (like the teachers and other students there at the time) would have known about his inability to read since he’d be unable to do his schoolwork in the typical manner. Hogwarts students are typically required to both read and write while doing their classes. He wouldn’t be able to hide that he couldn’t from everyone while also going to Hogwarts.

However, nothing about Aberforth being unable to read was mentioned in either “eulogy” of Albus Dumbledore. Elphias Doge didn’t mention it when comparing Albus with Aberforth. However, that’s not necessarily proof by itself. Even though Elphias Doge would have certainly known if his friend’s brother couldn’t read, he might not share that with the public if he thought it’d be embarrassing. Rita Skeeter is clearly very willing to share all the salacious details she can in her book. With so many people who’d have knowledge of Aberforth being illiterate if he was, Rita Skeeter, who was able to find out a lot of details about Dumbledore’s life that very few people would have known, would have surely found out about Aberforth’s inability to read.

“I ask whether Skeeter is referring to Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth, whose conviction by the Wizengamot for misuse of magic caused a minor scandal fifteen years ago.

‘Oh, Aberforth is just the tip of the dungheap,’ laughs Skeeter. ‘No, no, I’m talking about much worse than a brother with a fondness for fiddling about with goats, worse even than the Muggle-maiming father – Dumbledore couldn’t keep either of them quiet, anyway, they were both charged by the Wizengamot.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 2 (In Memoriam)

She’s quite happy to mention Aberforth being charged for casting inappropriate charms on a goat, so if she knew he was also illiterate, she’d likely mention that as well to add in more unflattering details to her story. She portrayed the members of Albus Dumbledore’s family as negatively as possible, as well as the man himself, so it’s unlikely that she’d leave out anything that would reflect badly on them.

Albus was likely joking, but Aberforth may have avoided reading.

When Albus Dumbledore said he’s not entirely sure his brother can read, he probably didn’t mean it literally - he was likely joking, but he may have known his brother to avoid reading and not enjoy it.

“Yeh – yeh’re not half-giant!’ said Hagrid croakily.

‘Hagrid, look what I’ve got for relatives!’ Harry said furiously. ‘Look at the Dursleys!’

‘An excellent point,’ said Professor Dumbledore. ‘My own brother, Aberforth, was prosecuted for practising inappropriate charms on a goat. It was all over the papers, but did Aberforth hide? No, he did not! He held his head high and went about his business as usual! Of course, I’m not entirely sure he can read, so that may not have been bravery …”
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 24 (The Egg and the Eye)

That may have meant something more along the lines of “Aberforth barely read” rather than “Aberforth was actually incapable of reading”. Indeed, if Aberforth didn’t read much then his brother might have meant that he wouldn’t be likely to read the newspapers instead.

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    I don’t think joking is the word to describe Albus’s language about his brother. He was clearly still bitter about him. He was simply taking a bitter dig at him without regard for what he was teaching Harry. Adults say dumb things to kids all the time. – Dúthomhas Sep 22 '18 at 23:17

We don't know

In the fourth book Aberforth is characterized by Albus as a zoophile and a (possibly) illiterate person. It seemed more like a joke, and perhaps even a reference to witchcraft and sorcery practice accusations - the passage can be interpreted according to the reader's maturity.

It is a rather brief introduction, but in the seveth book a complex backstory of the Dumbledore family is described in which Aberforth plays an important part.

We learn that Abeforth is magical and attended Hogwarts:

Three years after we had started at Hogwarts, Albus’s brother, Aberforth, arrived at school. -The Deathly Hallows - Chapter two: In Memoriam

Attending Hogwarts can be challenging for an illiterate person: The students have reading and writing assignments in most of the subjects, and written exams.

It is technically possible that if Aberforth had difficulties in reading comprehension he was tutored and allowed to do verbal tests instead of written ones, or perhaps the questions were read to him and he had a permit to use a charmed quill which recorded automatically what he dictated.

We don't have additional information about Aberforth being illiterate, just that contrary to his elder brother, Aberforth was not the bookish type:

They were not alike; Aberforth was never bookish and, unlike Albus, preferred to settle arguments by dueling rather than through reasoned discussion. - ibid

It is entirely possible that Aberforth was (partially) dyslectic and therefore he was less enthusiastic about studying, but there are many other reasons why someone chooses not to pursue a scholarly career or became a bibliophile. Either way, Abeforth is an accomplished duelist, and even capable of performing the complex patronus charm:

“Someone sent a doe Patronus to us!” “Brains like that, you could be a Death Eater, son. Haven’t I just proved my Patronus is a goat?” “Oh,” said Ron. “Yeah . . . well, I’m hungry!” he added defensively as his stomach gave an enormous rumble. - Deatly Hallows: Chapter 28: The Missing Mirror

If we look at the context of Dumbledore referring to his younger brother as illiterate it seems that he wanted to cheer up Harry, sharing an embarrassing family secret, namely that even he, the brilliant scholar has a rather infamous and less than stellar brother. It is told as an anecdote, therefore it is entirely possible that Albus was exaggerating a bit. Unfortunately famous people like Albus Dumbledore need to be careful what they reveal, as everything they say is scrupulously analyzed and discussed by the public or even twisted by sensational reporting.


The question is: how could Albus not know for sure?

Knowing the whole story of their brotherhood and the fact that they are still in touch throughout the books, it is hard to believe Albus didn't really know if his brother could read. If Aberforth was illiterate then Albus would definitely know it. So it looks to me that Albus was just joking when said that.

  • I don't follow your point. Of course we would expect Albus to know whether his brother was literate or not. What reasons do you have for suspecting that he was only joking? – The Dark Lord Sep 23 '18 at 16:42
  • My point is: Albus could not say "Of course, I'm not entirely sure he can read..." seriously, because of course he should have known for sure! So it could not be a truthful piece of information. Thus he was either lying or joking. Given the whole situation I assume he was joking. – Shana Tar Sep 23 '18 at 20:51

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