Dumbledore’s Master Plan: Part 7
When I take a step back and look at the Harry Potter story as a whole, I don’t see a seven-part series. Now obviously, Rowling chose to break up her novels chronologically. That is, one book per school year. However, I have come to realize that this does not necessarily mean each book represents one equal, distinct part of a seven-part whole. I know, I know, you’re all asking right now, what are you talking about, why is this even important? Well, it is important because the way we view the series as a whole has a strong impact on how we read Half-Blood Prince.
Before we embark on our seventh and final segment of this editorial series, I want to take a moment to define what I think Half-Blood Prince really is. I heard some amount of grumbling among the Potter fan-base that the sixth book did not live up to the standards of the previous two. Some say this was because the climax was neither as prolonged nor as intense as the climaxes of Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, and Order of the Phoenix. Some did not particularly like the large amount of space devoted to relationships and teen romances. Finally, I think some fans were disappointed that the book ended with the seemingly senseless murder of one of the most beloved characters. Well, I am here to offer some explanation for these genuinely valid complaints.
The fact of the matter is that Half-Blood Prince is not just the sixth part of a seven-part series. It is really only Part One of the final episode in the Potter saga. Rowling may have decided to split up Harry’s sixth and seventh years into two books, but together they are really only one story. For all intents and purposes, book six was only half of a story. If we look closely at some of its literary traits, clearly it very closely resembles only half of a very complex narrative. Rowling did not fail to live up to the standards of her previous books, she simply only had enough space to give us the first part of her final storyline, a storyline that, when all is said and done, promises to be the most detailed and exciting yet.
So for a moment, I want you to try to visualize books six and seven as just one book. What sort of literary elements does the first half of a dramatic thriller usually have? Well, it starts off by giving us any necessary background information and introducing any new characters. Then the major plot elements are introduced, some story lines are developed, and we get some minor instances of action and/or conflict. A good portion is usually devoted to character development, and any personal relationships or romances that will be important later in the story are established. Then, as we reach the halfway point (that is, the end of the first part), we get our first major conflict of the story, followed by a climax. This climax is nowhere near the magnitude of the one that will come at the very end, but it is important, nonetheless, because it often catapults our protagonist onto the path that will ultimately lead him to the major climax of the story. But before our hero can begin this final journey towards his inevitable showdown, the elderly mentor and teacher who has guided him along the way, must be taken away from him. The hero must complete to rest of the journey and face the ultimate challenge on his own. Does any of this sound familiar?
So now that we know what we are dealing with in Half-Blood Prince, lets get back to the noble and wise Albus Dumbledore, as we follow his Master Plan though Book 6 (otherwise known as the first half of our final story). Now that the record of the prophecy is lost and the Ministry has officially declared Voldemort’s return, there is no point in operating in secret anymore. He resumes his friendly relations with the giants, lures the Dementors away from Azkaban, and declares open war on the peace and safety of the wizarding public. Cornelius Fudge loses his job (although the sacking was merited due to his complete mishandling of the Voldemort situation for the past year). A new Minister is appointed, but is unable to make any significant strides in combating the Death Eaters, save for arresting a few innocent people. The bottom line: Voldemort’s back, he’s angry, and he’s determined.
Perhaps even more significant, is the fact that Voldemort has closed off his mind to Harry Potter. Despite the fact that influencing Harry’s thoughts worked like a charm for him at the end of Order of the Phoenix, his unfathomably painful attempt to possess the boy was sufficient enough reason to close off the connection. For the record, I really do not know the extent of Harry’s connection with Voldemort, or if Harry is the host for one of the Dark Lord’s Horcruxes. I have already stated that I am fairly certain that Dumbledore does know this information, but for whatever reason, decided not to tell Harry. At this point, I think it is likely that Voldemort also has a pretty good understanding of the nature his connection with Harry and whether the boy’s scar is a Horcrux.
This knowledge was not the only information that he learned during the battle at the Ministry, however. It became painfully clear to him that with Albus Dumbledore around, it would be extremely difficult to get close enough to Harry to kill him. So he decided to move Harry off his radar for a little while, and focus on his elder, more formidable enemy. Voldemort’s plan for Harry’s sixth year was clear: kill Albus Dumbledore. However, he also knew that it is almost impossible to defeat Albus in hand-to-hand combat, so he must find a way to get to him when his guard is down. The obvious choice was to put another of his agents at Hogwarts with the sole objective of murdering Dumbledore. His first choice may very well have been Severus Snape, a fully capable wizard who, by all accounts, had gained Dumbledore’s complete trust. However, the Dark Lord’s vindictive nature got the best of him once more, and what should have been a fairly simple task became far more complex and drawn-out.
This is because Voldemort had a bit of a bone to pick with the Malfoy family. Upon his return, he was already upset that Lucius made no effort to seek him out during his thirteen-year absence. Then he learned that Lucius carelessly sent his diary, one of his prized Horcuxes, away to Hogwarts where it was ultimately destroyed. Finally, when he put Lucius in charge of the mission to retrieve the prophecy from the Department of Mysteries, he made a complete mess of everything. Even though the group of Death Eaters was superior in numbers and power to Harry and his friends, every one of them except Bellatrix managed to get cursed, killed, or captured.
At that point, Voldemort had had quite enough of Malfoy’s failures, so he decided to take out his frustration on Lucius’ only son. Since the boy wanted to join the Death Eaters anyway, Voldemort gave him an almost impossible and life-threatening task. He told Draco that he must find a way to murder Dumbledore, and also repair the Vanishing Cabinet so that the Death Eaters could infiltrate Hogwarts and take over what is probably the safest building in Britain. The way Voldemort saw it; he had nothing to lose here. If Draco succeeded, then that’s great. If he failed – and Voldemort probably expected him to – then the Death Eaters could clean up the mess and kill Dumbledore themselves when they raided Hogwarts through the cabinet. If Draco failed to mend the cabinet as well, then Voldemort would have to go back to square one and assign an experienced killer to do the job.
Obviously, this was not a perfect plan, but like I said, for some reason Voldemort decided to place a high priority on the Malfoys’ punishment. Either way, he clearly made the choice not to focus on young Harry until Albus Dumbledore was totally out of the picture. When he received word that Snape had engaged in an Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa to protect Draco and complete his task if the boy were unable, Voldemort may have been slightly perturbed that his authority had been undermined. However, in the end he would likely have been satisfied with the vow because it was a pretty good insurance policy that Albus would, indeed, be killed. Severus was as good a choice as any to do the job if Draco failed. Little did Voldemort know that he was not alone in this thinking.
You see, after his battle with Voldemort at the Ministry, Dumbledore found himself in a very delicate position. His plan for year five had ultimately been a success since he had forced the Dark Lord into spending a year focusing on the fool’s errand of obtaining the prophecy. Then he finally forced Fudge to recognize Voldemort’s return and was able to protect Harry from harm. However, Albus knew that Voldemort would assuredly take advantage of everyone knowing about his return. It was likely that he would soon resume the terror campaign that he had waged against Britain for so many years before his first defeat.
Dumbledore also knew that Harry would soon come of age, and it would be time for him to take on the responsibility that prophecy foretold. He knew that Voldemort had to be defeated sooner than later. Time was not a luxury he had anymore, since at this point any more delay could mean the lives of innocent people. Finally, he knew that defeating the Dark Lord was something that Harry had to do, and according to the prophecy, only Harry could do it. Albus was then faced with a conflict. He knew that as long as he still had a breath in his body, he would do anything he could to fight evil and protect Harry from danger. Just like the battle at the end of Order of the Phoenix, as long as Dumbledore was around, Harry would never have to face Voldemort alone. Yet, it was vital that Harry face the final challenge by himself. So at this point, Dumbledore decided that his final move would be to give his own life. He had spent the better part of thirty years devoting his life to battling Voldemort, and now he knew that it was time to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Before he could completely pass the torch to Harry, there were still some loose ends that needed to be tied up, and much that he still had to teach the boy. He also wanted to make Harry’s path as easy as possible. Without Slughorn’s memory, he was not positive about the total number of Horcruxes that Voldemort had made. However, he knew there was more than one. After years of researching the Dark Lord’s personal history and retracing his steps as a youth, Albus discovered the location of one of the Horcruxes: the ring. He went to the ruins of what was formerly the Gaunt homestead, and after a significant struggle with the magical protections and curses surrounding the ring, he retrieved it, although not without some battle scars. If we can believe his story (and for the most part, I think we can in this case), he returned to Hogwarts where Snape was able to treat the injury with a certain potion that lessened the damage to Dumbledore’s hand and possibly saved his life. Dumbledore then removed the piece of Voldemort’s soul from the ring. Of course, as of yet, we do not know exactly how one would go about making a Horcrux inert (aside from stabbing it with a Basilisk fang), but suffice it to say that Rowling will provide us with that information when she deems it necessary.
This little near-death scare may have been yet another reminder to Dumbledore of his mortality and his old age. This only cemented his resolve to sacrifice himself for the good of Harry’s mission and the future of the wizarding world. So before we see Albus come to Privet Drive to collect Harry, before we see Snape make the Unbreakable Vow, and before we see the hilarious scene in the Muggle Prime Minister’s office, Dumbledore had a meeting with his most loyal and devoted agent. He told Severus that he would personally be taking a role in Harry’s education that year. He told him that he was bringing an old friend back to Hogwarts. He said that Harry had much to learn about his enemy, and the information Slughorn possessed was of the utmost importance to his plan. He said that Slughorn would be resuming his position as Potions Master, and that he, Severus, would therefore have to take over as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. He told Snape that this undoubtedly meant it would be his final year at Hogwarts. Albus told Snape that his own time had come, and he would be dead before the end of the school term. Albus then said that he, Snape, might have to be the one to kill him.
Snape would have been crestfallen. Dumbledore was the closest thing he had to a father or a real friend in a long time. But Albus told him that he must trust him now more than ever. Their “Master Plan” was in its final stages, and this was simply the last necessary step. He said that Voldemort would undoubtedly be gunning for him, and he only hoped that he would have enough time to properly educate Harry. He told Snape that he had to be ready, for at a moment’s notice he might ask him to perform the deed.
Now that this bombshell had been dropped on him, Severus went back to his home at Spinner’s End for the summer. However, after a short time, Voldemort summoned him. The Dark Lord told him about his plan for the upcoming year. He told Snape that they were going to take care of Dumbledore once and for all. He said that he had assigned the task to Draco, and if all went well, Dumbledore would be dead by the end of the year and the Death Eaters would be able to ambush Hogwarts. He also sent Wormtail to live with Snape for the remainder of the summer.
Soon after this meeting, Narcissa Malfoy was informed of her sons responsibility. She was extremely frightened, thinking that the Dark Lord was assuredly sending Draco to his death. So she went to the Death Eater of which both her son and husband seemed very fond, and the only man who would be able to assist Draco while at Hogwarts. She asked him to make an Unbreakable Vow to protect Draco, and help him do his duty if the boy was unable. After what Dumbledore had told him, Snape really had nothing to lose by making the vow, so he did.
After only a couple weeks, Dumbledore decided Harry had spent enough time with his aunt and uncle for the summer. He went to collect Harry at Privet Drive and bring him along while he recruited Slughorn. This was not before he received assurance that Harry would be able to return to the Dursleys’ house after the end of the school year. At this point, he knew he could be dead at any time, and wanted to make sure his blood charm lasted until Harry’s seventeenth birthday.
After giving Harry a little more information about the prophecy, Dumbledore dropped him off with the Weasleys and returned to Hogwarts. When he got back, Snape met him and informed him of the Unbreakable Vow. Dumbledore would likely have been pleased with the vow because he too wanted to protect Draco, and he too wanted assurance that Snape would kill him if it became necessary. Even more important, however, was the news that Voldemort had assigned Draco to the task of murdering him. As I said, Albus knew the Dark Lord would want him dead, but he knew not how Voldemort would go about it. With the knowledge that the task was Dracos to complete, Dumbledore knew he had some time to work with. He knew it would not be terribly difficult to avoid being killed by Draco, especially since the boy assumed he would have the element of surprise. So he decided that he would try to drag it out as long as possible, give Harry several lessons during the year, attempt to gain a valuable piece of information from Slughorn, and hopefully eliminate another of the Dark Lords Horcruxes before he took his final leave from Hogwarts.
In his ongoing battle with Voldemort, there were a few things that gave Dumbledore an edge over the Dark Lord, an edge that ultimately allowed his Plan to succeed. First, he thoroughly and meticulously studied his enemy, while at the same time, maintaining an awareness of his own weaknesses. Second, he carried out his plans with unmatched patience, never compromising his priorities. And third, he kept his cards extremely close to his chest. He had a great deal of people that relied on him, and it was of the utmost importance to never tip his hand to the enemy. For this reason, he never told anyone, not Harry nor McGonagall nor any other member of the Order (expect, perhaps, his brother but that remains to be seen) about the full extent of Snapes position as a double agent, or what really happened the night the prophecy was delivered. Why? The information was simply too valuable. He trusted his people, but their knowing the truth was not nearly as important as making sure Voldemort never knew the truth. Many lives depended on this secrecy. So Dumbledore was fully content to let everyone on both sides believe the story that he and Snape had concocted.
For the same reason, he could not confirm Harry’s suspicions about Draco in Half-Blood Prince, or even let on that he knew what was going on. He had to allow Draco to proceed as though nothing was wrong. In doing this, he was protecting Draco from harm, protecting the students of Hogwarts from a potentially rash and preemptive attack, buying himself some time to give Harry lessons about the life and times of Tom Riddle, and buying Harry some time to get the memory from Slughorn. After some time, Snape began to have misgivings about what Dumbledore was asking him to do. Of course, Harry and Hagrid misread this discussion, but I would contend that in their private conversation, Snape was confessing that he was getting cold feet about murdering Dumbledore, but Albus was firm with him, stating that he made a promise and it was too late to back out. The remainder of the school year passed without any major event. There was Quidditch and romance, fun with Felix Felicis, and a scare with Sectumsempra. Then, as the term drew to a close, Harry received his final notice from Dumdledore. From there, they made their journey to the sea-cave in search of one of Voldemorts Horcruxes. The Horcrux would prove to be a dead end (although not without some mystery behind it), but it set into motion the chain of events that would lead to Dumbledores death.
The whole scene in the cave was extremely intriguing to me. I may be off base, but it seemed that there was more than met the eye to that scene. Presumably, through his research, Dumbledore discovered that one of Voldemorts Horcruxes was likely housed in the cave. My initial instinct was that he scouted out the cave, realized it would be a two-person job, and decided to invite Harry along. However, it is clear when they were actually inside the cave that Dumbledore had never been there before, so that cannot be right. It may be as simple as: Dumbledore discovered the cave, and wanted to bring Harry with him in retrieving a Horcrux, to give him some guidance and show him what he should expect from Voldemort, in terms of magical barriers. He knew Harry would have to track down a few Horcruxes on his own, so this was basically a trial run.
Then there’s the green potion. For my money, nothing in Half-Blood Prince, not the question of Snape’s loyalty (not even a question as far as I’m concerned), not the mystery of the fake locket and R.A.B.’s note, and not the curious attempts on students’ lives was more intriguingly mysterious than that green potion. It was an extraordinarily interesting bit of psychological magic. Obviously, we can only venture to guess what happened to Dumbledore when he drank it. Did it force him to see things or relive past memories? Did it cause him horrible physical pain? Was it all a ruse to make the drinker disturb the Inferi in the water? Was Dumbledore’s life truly in danger because of drinking it? We may never know the answers to these questions. He certainly seemed weak afterwards, but there is very little of which we can be sure. The only thing I think we can safely assume, is that after drinking the potion and escaping from the cave, Dumbledore knew that death would shortly be upon him. He immediately starting gasping that he needed Severus. Upon first reading, it would seem that he was in need of an antidote, not unlike what happened after he retrieved the ring. However, given what I have deduced about their “Master Plan” and the relationship between Albus and Severus, I think it is likely that he was calling for Severus because he knew the end was near. He needed to make sure Snape would finish the job.
So he managed to get to the top of the Astronomy Tower, and he managed to prevent Harry from having any involvement in the scene. To be frank, he would probably have preferred if Harry had not seen any of it, but he didn’t have time to remove the boy completely. In his final selfless act as headmaster, he managed to persuade Draco not to commit murder. When Snape finally arrived, Albus knew the time had come, and he pleaded with his most faithful agent to grant his final request and end his life.
Snape mustered all of the vindictive hatred and rage inside him and struck Dumbledore with an Avada Kedavra that knocked him clear off the ledge. Despite the strong bond he had with his friend and mentor, it certainly would not have been difficult for Severus to conjure these emotions. Dumbledore was simultaneously asking Snape to commit the ultimate evil, and in the process, abandoning him forever. After doing the deed, Snape would become a fugitive, a known murderer. He would never be able to return to Hogwarts, the place he had called home for many years. Because of Dumbledore’s insistence on secrecy, even within the Order, Snape would be hated and reviled by those whom he considered allies. He would be completely alone. Mostly horribly, he was no longer a double agent. He could no longer hide behind his job at Hogwarts. If he wanted to keep his cover and protect himself, he had to fully embrace life as a Death Eater, to firmly and irrevocably entrench himself with the enemy. It was truly a difficult moment for Severus Snape.
So after he killed Dumbledore, Snape’s top priority became protecting the remainder of Hogwarts. He grabbed Draco and led the Death Eaters immediately out of the castle. He managed to get all the intruders to leave, even though they were still in the process of doing significant damage. He dissuaded one of them from taking a shot at Harry, and made a beeline for the gates. Then, to make matters worse, Harry chased after him firing curses and yelling at him, calling him a coward. That struck a nerve. Not a moment ago, he had acquiesced to Dumbledore pleading, in the process giving up everything for Albus’ cause. He had performed an act of tremendous courage and selflessness, and now this ungrateful boy had the audacity to accuse him of being a coward. He had never been so furious in his life. Yet he knew that he could not let Dumbledore’s death be for naught. Harry had to be protected if their plan was to succeed. So instead of attacking Harry, he simply blocked all his curses and gave him one final lesson on closing off his mind. Then he made his final exit from Hogwarts as the ultimate villain, with the only man who knew the true extent of his heroism lying helplessly in the grass, dead by Snape’s own hand.
Dumbledore’s death was indeed tragic, but it was not in vain. He took his final breath with the knowledge that everything had unfolded exactly as he planned. A “Master Plan” over seventeen years in the works, had finally come to fruition in the most brilliant of ways. Albus did everything he could do and handed off the final stages of the plan to his protégé, the Chosen One, Harry Potter.
So as we anxiously await the last chapter of our saga, the latter half of Rowling’s epic story, and the conclusion of the series, we remember the late, beloved headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore was a great man and a singularly amazing individual. He was probably the cleverest wizard in the world, with infinite patience, unmatched compassion, and an unparalleled knack for reading and understanding other people. He single-handedly saved more lives than most are even aware of. He personally tricked the most feared wizard of all time, on no less than three occasions. It is thanks to his brilliantly executed “Master Plan” that Harry Potter is still alive and the wizarding world still has a fighting chance to finally destroy Lord Voldemort. Dumbledore preached the importance of choosing what is right over what is easy. He embodied this sentiment by taking personal responsibility for the fate of the entire wizarding world. He sacrificed himself, giving his own life so that Harry would have the ability to bring the prophecy to fulfillment. He may be dead, but his wisdom lingers in his wake. It was time to pass the torch, and as Dumbledore said when the two are leaving the cave:
“I am not worried, Harry – I am with you.”
(HBP, page 578)
He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten. We have known this since way back in Chamber of Secrets. Dumbledore will only truly be departed from Hogwarts when none left are loyal to him. And fortunately for the rest of the world, Albus was survived by some very determined wizards who are extremely loyal to him, and fully capable of carrying out the remainder of his “Master Plan.”
“It is important to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then can evil be kept at bay.