Dumbledore’s Master Plan: Part 1
by Steve Connolly
“The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.” – Albus Dumbledore
In Chapter 37 of Order of the Phoenix, entitled The Lost Prophecy, Albus Dumbledore speaks of a plan. A brilliant and wonderful plan that he hatched before Harry Potter was ever born, and a plan upon which the safety of the entire Wizarding World may very well rest.
The following is the first of a seven-part series of editorials tracking Dumbledore’s actions behind the scenes, starting from the first Voldemort War until his death at the end of Half-Blood Prince (and yes, I’m afraid he is dead).
This series of editorials has been in the works for quite a while, ever since I finished reading Half-Blood Prince for the first time. It was then that I realized Rowling has given us much more to work with than most readers are aware of. Even if it is not all explained in canon, we can dig beneath the surface to see what has really been going on in the Wizarding World for the last twenty years or so. Since that initial read, I have combed through every editorial MuggleNet has ever posted, read essays from several other Potter analysts, and reread the entire series itself. So without further delay, welcome to Dumbledore’s Master Plan: Part One, in which I will analyze the late great Hogwarts headmaster from the time of Trelawney’s first prophecy to Harry’s first day of school.
One issue that affects every aspect of the Harry Potter saga, in fact perhaps the most significant literary tool that Rowling employs, is that of perspective. These are such gripping and well-told stories that we as readers often forget exactly what we are getting. So allow me to clarify: we are getting the accounts, experiences, opinions, deductions, and thoughts of one young man. Everything funnels through Harry. Everything. On only three occasions in over 3,000 pages of literature do we ever see anything other than Harry’s point of view. These anomalies are, of course, the first chapter of Goblet of Fire (which only partially counts because Harry saw the whole scene in a dream), and the first two chapters of Half-Blood Prince. Other than that, we see everything through Harry’s eyes.
Now this has, no doubt, made for six outstanding books, but it definitely impedes us when we really want to analyze what is happening in the series. While Harry certainly seems to be at the center of all the important action, I think it is safe to say that he is hardly the most knowledgeable character. This allows for fantastic mysteries since Harry, himself, constantly has to figure things out. However, this epic and deadly chess match between Dumbledore and Voldemort has been going on since before Harry was even born. Let us not forget that even as Harry and the reader try to figure out the mystery du jour, Albus Dumbledore often knows exactly what the problem is, as he has a great deal more information than we do. After all, these are not, first and foremost, suspense novels or mysteries. These are school stories. And while Harry is attending his classes, doing his potions homework, playing Quidditch, thinking about girls, or whatever else, Dumbledore is firmly entrenched in a battle of wits with Voldemort. And as Harry soon comes to learn, the stakes are extremely high.
So now let’s do something that Rowling rarely does: let’s leave Harry out of this for a while. But before we commence with the story of Albus Dumbledore, we must first address the loyalties of a certain former Potions Master, because the two are inexorably linked. So with your permission, let us travel back in time to a cold, wet night in a room above the Hog’s Head bar. Sound familiar? Well it should, we all know what happened. Dumbledore had a less-than-impressive interview with Sybil Trelawney. Just before he was about to leave, she went into Seer-trance mode and delivered the prophecy concerning the Dark Lord and the Chosen One. As fate would have it, a young Death Eater named Severus Snape, who was snooping around at the time, happened to overhear what was going on. After only hearing the first part of the prophecy, he was caught and ejected from the bar (by barman Aberforth Dumbledore?), at which point he went straight to his master to tell him the details of what he had heard.
This much is fact. Or is it? It was fact until Chapter 25 of Half-Blood Prince, The Seer Overheard. Even though Harry does not recognize it at the time, the information that Rowling so subtly and brilliantly gives us in this chapter throws everything we thought we knew about Dumbledore, Snape, and the prophecy into question. When I first read the exchange between Harry and Trelawney outside of the Room of Requirement, I thought there had to be some mistake. Rowling must have made a rare error in plotting. But after rereading it several times and searching for what others had to say on the subject, I came to the conclusion that Rowling has not made a mistake. It is far too obvious for that. Instead, she has given us a hint, a major hint, about the relationship between Dumbledore and Snape. Before I get into it however, allow me to reproduce two complete passages from the text, so you can try to see it for yourself.
My – our – one stroke of good fortune was that the eavesdropper was detected only a short way into the prophecy and thrown from the building.”
“He only heard the first part, the part foretelling the birth of a boy in July to parents who had thrice defied Voldemort. Consequently he could not warn his master that to attack you would be to risk transferring power to you – again marking you as his equal.”
(page 843, OoTP, U.S. hardcover)
“Dumbledore did me the courtesy of calling upon me in my room. He questioned me I must confess that, at first, I thought he seemed ill-disposed towards Divination and I remember I was starting to feel a little odd, I had not eaten much that day but then– ” And now Harry was paying attention properly for the first time, for he knew what had happened then: Professor Trelawney made the prophecy that had altered the course of his whole life, the prophecy about him and Voldemort.“ – but then we were rudely interrupted by Severus Snape!”
“Yes, there was a commotion outside the door and it flew open, and there was that rather uncouth barman standing with Snape, who was waffling about having come the wrong way up the stairs.”
(page 544, 545, HBP, U.S. hardcover)
Notice anything? Let’s look at this objectively. We can assume that Professor Trelawney is telling Harry the truth since she would have no reason to lie. In addition, we have seen Trelawney make a true prophecy in the past (towards the end of Prisoner of Azkaban). We know that when she delivers them, she is not aware of anything around her, or even that she has made a prophecy at all. In her description of what happened in the Hog’s Head, she says that she started to feel odd. At this point, Rowling takes a moment to make sure the reader knows that this was the exact moment when the prophecy was made. So according to Trelawney, she started feeling weird, at which point she delivered the prophecy. Then they were interrupted by Snape.
Wait a minute. That can’t be right.
If Trelawney is telling the truth and we have no reason to believe otherwise then Snape had to have been discovered and ejected from the bar after the prophecy was made. Trelawney has no awareness of her surroundings while prophesizing, so if she was conscious and alert when she saw Snape, it means she had already completed the prophecy. In turn, this means if Snape heard any of the prophecy, it was the last part, not the first part. According to Dumbledore, Snape heard the first part and was kicked out before he could hear the rest. However, there is NO way Snape could have been ejected, but then still been there after the prophecy so that Trelawney could see him standing in the doorway. From the image we saw of Trelawney delivering the prophecy, she did it continuously and without interruption. In addition, Harry and the readers were conveniently not present at the entire scene. We only saw the Seer emerge from Pensieve and give the prophecy. Ergo, Snape could not have heard the beginning, been caught and thrown out, and come back into the bar so that he could be standing outside the door to burst in as Trelawney described. It is simply not possible. And this means that Snape either heard all of it, none of it, or only the latter part, but the conflicting accounts make it impossible for Dumbledore’s story to be true. It means that Dumbledore lied to Harry.
Of course this begs the question, why would Dumbledore lie? I think we know the answer to that as well. As much as we like to believe everything Dumbledore says is true, and that Rowling essentially speaks through him when she needs to explain important parts of the story, we must not forget that Dumbledore is a character too. He has his own agenda, and he has a history of keeping his cards very close to his chest when it comes to the battle with Voldemort. As he says, the truth must be handled with caution. So, why would Dumbledore lie? He would lie to protect someone. We have certainly seen him do it with Harry and Sirius, and I think in this case, he is lying to protect the one person whose importance to his plan is close to rivaling Harry’s. That person is Severus Snape.
Here is what I think happened:
Albus Dumbledore had watched as the terrorist formerly known as Tom Riddle slowly amassed followers and gained power. It was now to the point that Voldemort had much of Wizarding Britain at his mercy, and people were beginning to fear the very mention of his name. Although Dumbledore was probably the most respected wizard of his time, he still felt personally responsible for the death and destruction caused by Voldemort because he had failed to nip it in the bud when young Tom was still a student. He knew there were few, if any, wizards in the world who were as knowledgeable and accomplished magically as Voldemort. It is also likely that he suspected Voldemort had created a Horcrux due to his changed physical appearance and his obsession with immortality. The one thing that Dumbledore had going for him was that he had a spy within Voldemort’s organization.
That’s right. I think Dumbledore recruited Snape as a spy long before the prophecy was ever made. Unfortunately, we have no information about Snape’s life between the incident with James Potter in his fifth year and the night the prophecy was made. Dumbledore may have secured his loyalties and taught him Occlumecy before he ever entered the Death Eaters. Or perhaps Snape joined Voldemort because he offered him the chance to study the Dark Arts without limitations, but became disgruntled with Voldemort’s malicious motives and sought out Dumbledore. We may or may not ever find out exactly what happened, but suffice it to say that Snape was a double agent for Dumbledore on that cold, wet night. He had to have been; there is no other explanation for why Dumbledore would lie to Harry, except to protect Snape’s cover. We all know that Voldemort pretty much had free access to Harry’s mind during year five, so Dumbledore could not risk giving up the one piece of information that confirmed Snape was on Albus’s side.
Unfortunately, though Snape was very young at the time, he was not in Voldemort’s inner circle, and as yet, had not been able to provide any truly valuable information from the enemy front. On that particular night, Albus was performing his regular duties as headmaster, interviewing a potential candidate for the post of Divination professor. He soon came to realize that she had no discernible talent when it came to Seeing, and just as he was about to politely reject her application, something strange happened. Imagine his surprise when he realized what he was witnessing. Unsure if he would ever have a chance to gain the upper hand on Voldemort, all of a sudden he had a front row seat for a true prophecy about the possible downfall of the Dark Lord. Not only that, but it was delivered in the midst of the one man with the intelligence and influence to use it as a weapon against Voldemort. This had to be fate.
He immediately realized that this was the opportunity he had been waiting for, a chance to redeem himself for allowing young Tom Riddle to grow into the monster he had become. Moreover, he finally had the ability to take advantage of having a spy. Either Snape was already in the Hog’s Head that night, or Dumbledore quickly summoned him, and he apparated into the bar before Trelawney came out of her trance. After he had secured Trelawney’s safety by giving her a position at Hogwarts, Dumbledore met with Snape. He told him what the prophecy had foretold, and said that if they were going to use it to their advantage, they had to work quickly. He told Snape that they must force Voldemort to fall into the prophecy’s trap, to target the boy who fulfilled the qualifications so that he would mark him as his equal and effectively create the one who would have to power to destroy him. Dumbledore decided that he must release the prophecy to Voldemort, but only part of it; the part that would assuredly scare Voldemort enough to force him to take action. So they made up a story about how Snape had happened to overhear the beginning of the prophecy, but was caught and thrown out before he could get the rest. Then Dumbledore sent Snape off to tell Voldemort the news.
Meanwhile, on Voldemort’s end, his plans were going perfectly. He had a modest crew of loyal and talented Death Eaters. He had spies within the Ministry of Magic. He had armies of Inferi, Dementors, giants, and werewolves who were all his so-called natural allies. We will probably never know exactly what Voldemort’s final aims were back during his first rise to power. I doubt he had any dreams of being Minister for Magic, or even ruler of the Wizarding World. Voldemort cared very little about being revered. Instead, he wanted to be feared. He wanted to live forever, be known as the most powerful sorcerer in history, and have every man, woman, and child completely at his mercy. If these were indeed his goals, then so far his plan was going swimmingly. He had already created five Horcruxes, and believed himself to be essentially indestructible. However, he was still one short of the magic number of six he so strongly desired.
In the course of my perusing though countless pieces of Potter analysis, I came across a theory that I rather like. The author over at Red Hen (thanks to Maline for that link) postulates that Voldemort was saving the creation of his final Horcrux for his greatest murder of all; the murder of Albus Dumbledore. Think about it, it makes perfect sense. Dumbledore was the only one who still called him Tom. He was the only one who still remembered him as a young boy. In short, he represented the only enduring reminder of Voldemort’s mortal life. Every step Voldemort has taken in his life has been towards achieving immortality. He abandoned his human name and fashioned himself a sweet, new, fear-inspiring moniker. He split his soul so many times that even the most gruesome attack on his body would not remove him from the physical world. And along the way, he murdered every person who stood in his path. It only makes sense that Voldemort would make his final Horcrux, the Horcrux that would, in his mind, make him invincible, from the death of not only his greatest foe, but from the one person who reminded him that he is mortal.
Then one night, a young (and rather greasy) Death Eater apparated into his presence and informed him that he had just heard part of a prophecy that foretold of the Dark Lords defeat. That changed everything. Voldemort decided that this could not be ignored. He had to find this child, kill him, and prevent him from ever having a chance to defeat him. Murdering Dumbledore took a back seat to the far more pressing issue of addressing the threat that the prophecy presented.
In a way, however, Voldemort probably thought this would work out pretty well for him. The prophecy presented a problem, to be sure, but how hard could it be to dispose of a child? This was his chance to cement himself as the greatest wizard in the world. There clearly must be higher powers at work here, since a prophecy was made about him. Once he had killed this Chosen One, the only one with the ability to destroy him, he would be truly immortal. Moreover, this presented an even more inviting opportunity for the creation of his sixth Horcrux. It would not only make him physically deathless, but it would represent his greatest victory the murder of a savior.
Bringing Voldemort the news of the prophecy greatly improved Snape’s standing within the Death Eaters. He was now one of the Dark Lord’s most trustworthy servants. I imagine this was about the time that Voldemort ordered Snape to get a job at Hogwarts where he could spy on Dumbledore. Once he discovered the boy about whom the prophecy spoke, he probably told Snape to wait until he had killed the boy. After that, using Snape’s position at Hogwarts, they would arrange for an attack on Dumbledore. That moment, obviously, never came.
Meanwhile, once Dumbledore had baited the trap for Voldemort, his next task was to prevent collateral damage. At that point, he had no idea to whom this young child would be born, so he had to check all of Wizarding Britain for parents who were expecting a child in late July. Once he had found the viable candidates (in this case, two couples), his first priority was to protect them. Dumbledore probably believed, based on what the prophecy said, that the chosen one would not be killed. However, I’m sure he wanted to avoid bringing any harm to the parents.
Dumbledore would have had a conversation with both the Potters and the Longbottoms, telling them that Voldemort would soon target one or both of them, and it could happen at any time. They had to be prepared to go into hiding at a moment’s notice. After fifteen months of this, Voldemort finally decided which child was more of a threat, and prepared to make his move. Snape got wind of this, and informed Dumbledore that Voldemort would attack the Potters within a matter of days. At this point, Albus suggested that they go under the Fidelius charm. Unfortunately, however, they rejected his offer to be their secret keeper, opting to use their best friend instead. This was where it all went bad for Dumbledore’s brilliant plan.
He had no idea that James and Lily had decided to use Pettigrew instead of Sirius, and he definitely had no idea that Pettigrew was actually working for Voldemort. As we know, this cost James and Lily their lives. Dumbledore did not even learn of what had transpired until after their deaths, at which point he asked Hagrid to go and retrieve the boy. Dumbledore was devastated about what had happened, but he saw that ultimately, the initial phase of his plan had worked. Voldemort had been unable to kill Harry, and had marked him as his equal, just as the prophecy predicted.
Dumbledore probably knew that Voldemort was not truly dead, but as long as he didn’t have a body, he was not a great threat. The Death Eaters were still dangerous, though, and Dumbledore knew that someday Voldemort would find a way to return. The only thing he could do was to protect and prepare Harry so that he would be ready when that day came. So he took advantage of Lily’s sacrifice, dropped Harry with his only living relatives, and used a powerful blood charm to give Harry the greatest protection possible as long as he lived under that roof.
Now all Dumbledore could do was wait; wait for Voldemort to return to physical form, and wait for Harry to grow up and come to Hogwarts, so Dumbledore could teach him all that he would need to know in order to one day defeat the Dark Lord.
Next time, in Part Two (and I promise it will be shorter), we will take a look at what transpired during Harry’s first year of school, and how Dumbledore handled the threat presented by Voldemort and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Until next time, remember to always read between the lines; there’s more to the story than you think.