Dumbledore’s Master Plan: Part 4
by Steve Connolly
Welcome, fellow Potter enthusiasts, to the fourth installment of my seven-part editorial series. When we last left our half-moon-bespectacled hero, he had made it through the first of three consecutive years in which he had very little control over what happened in Harry’s life. We have seen Dumbledore orchestrate a brilliant plot to use the prophecy against Voldemort. Then, ten years later, he successfully pulled off a truly Byzantine decoy using the Sorcerers Stone, and was able to protect Harry and prevent Voldemort’s return. Though Dumbledore has been working quietly behind the scenes, his presence is noticeably minimal over the next three years. During this time, sticking to his “Master Plan” did not require any detailed or cleverly designed schemes. It only required that he watch over Harry and help prepare him for the challenges that he would inevitably have to face. In his first two years at school though, Harry had already been in far more danger than Dumbledore had planned. And yet, he had passed each test with flying colors, and continued to prove that he was worthy of the daunting task with which Dumbledore so dubiously slated him as a baby.
In his third year, however, Harry would face neither deadly beasts nor his mortal enemies. Instead he would face the mystery and betrayal surrounding his traumatic past. In my opinion, this is the pivotal book in the series. It is the transitional point. Transitional for Harry in that, as a boy of just thirteen, he is suddenly confronted with very grown-up problems; and transitional for our story arc as well, since this marks the only book in which our protagonist does not deal with a direct threat from Lord Voldemort. The conflict in this book centers on Sirius Black’s escape from prison. We learn about this before Harry even leaves Privet Drive, but initially have no context in which to place it. The astute reader might remember that Hagrid mentioned Sirius’s name very briefly in Chapter Two of Philosopher’s/ Sorcerer’s Stone, when he flies in on Sirius’s motorcycle. However, I won’t pretend I immediately made the connection myself, upon first reading Prisoner of Azkaban. (As a side note, I do have a theory that Rowling likes to make brief mentions of her important characters, even if only in passing, before she really introduces them into the story. This is a pretty good argument for both Regulus Black and Aberforth Dumbledore’s significance to Book Seven, but obviously, that remains to be seen.) At any rate, the central conflict of Prisoner of Azkaban is introduced almost instantly, and for the majority of the book, we are under the impression that there is no major mystery for us to solve in this episode of the saga.
Ultimately, Dumbledore’s foresight and interjection would be necessary to save Sirius and allow him to escape. However, that does not come into play until very late in the school year. For most of the book, Harry is left to figure things out on his own. The meat of the story is truly a showcase for some of Rowling’s best writing. We watch as Harry develops a close relationship with Remus Lupin, learns more about his mother and father, struggles to repel the Dementors, experiences flashes of normalcy and ecstasy by winning the Quidditch Cup, and gains even more information about the circumstances surrounding his parents’ murders. By and large, this is one of the most enjoyable of the first six books to read. During all these events though, the readers are, as always, following Harry not Dumbledore. Once again, we don’t really know what Albus was doing to occupy his time.
Yet again, I am here to try to read between the lines and fill in the blanks. It is safe to assume that much of Dumbledore’s thoughts were occupied by the Sirius Black situation. Given that he was surely not fully informed about the history of the Marauders, Albus was likely very confused, intrigued, and worried about the events that transpired during Harry’s third year. We must assume that Dumbledore believed the same story as the rest of the wizarding world about Sirius’ alleged betrayal of the Potters and murder of Peter Pettigrew. He must have though it somewhat odd that Sirius would turn his back on his best friend after making such an effort to distance himself from his Voldemort-loving family members. However, when there was no evidence to suggest anything else, Albus must have been forced to accept that Sirius’ pedigree had finally caught up with him. After the incident with young Snape, James, and Remus-the-werewolf in their fifth year (the one that might have cost Severus his life, were it not for James’ interjection), Dumbledore certainly knew that Sirius was capable of some dangerously cruel things.
Therefore, when Sirius escaped from Azkaban, Dumbledore must have assumed that he would pick up where he left off and possibly go after Harry. (As a side note, not knowing at the time that Sirius was an animagus or that he was innocent, Dumbledore must have been very curious about how Sirius pulled off the escape.) Anyway, Albus undoubtedly hoped that the tale of Sirius’ betrayal of James and Lily would be a story that he could wait to tell Harry until he was a bit more grown up. However, when Sirius became front-page news, he knew that Harry would inevitably find out one way or another. Knowing this could be potentially traumatic for Harry, Albus performed a bit of damage control by hiring the closest thing to a surrogate father-figure he could find to help Harry through it. I imagine that, in addition to wanting to help him out by giving him a job, as well as Remus being a genuinely good teacher, Lupin’s appointment as DADA professor had something to do with Sirius’s escape. Dumbledore hired the one living person who had been good friends with both James and Sirius. He would therefore be able to help Albus shed some light on Sirius’ possible motives, protect Harry if Sirius did indeed attempt to attack him, and give Harry some first-hand knowledge about his parents and Sirius, so the information would be a bit easier to handle. This was really a brilliant idea. It is unlikely that Harry would have succeeded as well as he did in Prisoner of Azkaban without Lupin’s help.
Luckily, the majority of the school year passed without any major life-threatening crises. Much of Harry’s time was spent playing Quidditch, learning the Patronus charm, or sneaking off to Hogsmeade. It is not until the very end of the school year that Sirius finally makes his move. Pettigrew’s true identity is then revealed, and Harry (and the readers) learn there actually was a mystery all along. This time it came in the form of a framing and a faked death, twelve years ago. The climactic scene in the Shrieking Shack is the moment we first realize that we are not dealing with a story that only spans seven years of Harry’s life. This is a complex tale that traces its roots more than a dozen years in the past.
Meanwhile, throughout the school year, Dumbledore was observing everything and allowing the events to unfold in hopes that he would gain some insight into this rather curious situation. Although I do think Dumbledore believed the publicly accepted story about insane-murderer-Sirius, he still must have been a little suspicious as time passed. I imagine Dumbledore did think it a bit odd that Sirius was keeping such a low profile, and in fact, kept going out of his way to avoid killing people. After all, this was the man who allegedly didn’t think twice about helping Voldemort to kill his best friend, then proceeded to personally kill another of his friends, not to mention murder a dozen Muggles just for good measure. He was supposed to be a total sociopath, a murderous, raving lunatic as Ron so eloquently puts it in the Prisoner of Azkaban movie.
So what gives? Why is it that he has been free for almost an entire year and has not so much as hexed a single person? Heck, he managed to break into the Gryffindor dormitory while everyone was sleeping and didn’t hurt anyone. As I said, Dumbledore must have been at least somewhat intrigued by this.
Therefore, after the climactic confrontation in the Shrieking Shack, Lupin’s transformation, Wormtail’s escape, and Harry’s brave attempt to save Sirius from the hoard of Dementors, Dumbledore has no problem believing Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s story about what had transpired. Albus probably viewed it as the logical conclusion to an increasingly curious series of events, and it probably shed a great deal of light on a few questions and suspicions he had about Sirius.
And so, for the first time all year, it was necessary for Dumbledore to act. He sent Harry and Hermione on a time-travel mission to save Buckbeak and free Sirius. As usual, he showed up right when Harry needed him, and provided the only possible solution to the problem. Although Sirius’s escape was not vital to the success of Albus’ plan, he knew that Sirius could serve as the family that Harry never had. As the stakes got higher and the situation became more dangerous, Dumbledore knew Harry would need all the support he could get. Well, we all know how the rest of the story went down. For the third time in as many years, Harry succeeded, displaying both tremendous magical prowess and incredible strength of character.
Dumbledore and Harry had made it through another year and this time, Harry gained a godfather in the process. Albus must have, once again, been quite pleased with the ways things turned out at the end of Harry’s third year. However, he also knew that he would very soon have to deal with a far more dangerous adversary than Sirius Black or Peter Pettigrew. This is because, although Sirius was still a fugitive and the Ministry was none the wiser, Dumbledore and those in his camp knew the truth about Wormtail. Therefore, Peter’s options were limited. There were only so many places he could go, and Albus knew that eventually, he would find his way back to Voldemort. When that happened, Dumbledore would have a whole new set of dangerous circumstances to deal with. However, that is a story for another day.
In our next episode, well take a look at Voldemort’s truly masterful plot to destroy Harry and make his triumphant return to power. Until then, always remember to read between the lines.