Note: This editorial owes a debt of gratitude to mirrormere’s superb editorial, “The Flaw in the Plan”. While I disagree with the conclusions reached, the research is impeccable, and the writer does a fantastic job of laying out an alternate theory on what Dumbledore’s plans possibly were and how they went awry. I used it as a springboard for my own theories, and highly recommend reading it.
There are a lot of polarizing characters in the Harry Potter series, characters that fans either love or hate with equal passion – Snape, Ron, Ginny, James, etc. Those of you who have been reading my editorials know that I am exceedingly opinionated, and have a very firm stance on most characters. However, there has always been one character toward whom I could never figure out my feelings. I am talking about none other than Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.
I have written two essays on Dumbledore thus far, but both of those have been about his scheming and machinations. I’ve yet to evaluate his character, because my own feelings have been so confused. I cry every single time I reread Half-Blood Prince and he dies. Yet I always feel furious with him a day later when I read Deathly Hallows and see how Machiavellian he was. As always, Jo puts it best:
“Although [Dumbledore] seems to be so benign for six books, he’s quite a Machiavellian figure, really. He’s been pulling a lot of strings. Harry has been his puppet. When Snape says to Dumbledore, ‘We’ve been protecting [Harry] so he could die at the right moment’ — I don’t think in Book One you would have ever envisioned a moment where your sympathy would be with Snape rather than Dumbledore.”1
Once I’m done reading the series, I then face a conundrum. Do I continue viewing Dumbledore as a saint-like father figure to Harry, as I did the first six years I knew him? Or do I detest him for being cold-hearted and calculating? Both impulses are equally strong, and I forever flip-flop between the two. But I think I finally have had a breakthrough, and to get there we shall have to discuss Dumbledore’s myriad plans going on in the last two books.
Dumbledore the Machiavellian
Our original impression of Dumbledore in the first six books is one of the ultimate good guy. Dumbledore works tirelessly against Voldemort and to help Harry. The things he does are what’s right, no question about it. And he always works to save everybody. Even in Prisoner of Azkaban, he goes through an awful lot of hassle just to save a condemned hippogriff. This is why the death count in the first six books is so comparatively low, because Dumbledore works for the good of everyone.
But Deathly Hallows presents us with a spectacularly different issue: what happens when there’s a very real human cost to the greater good? We suddenly realize that Dumbledore is not working to help every single person; rather, he is now sacrificing people for the good of all. And this is a much harder pill to swallow. While I hold no great love for Severus Snape, one paragraph of dialogue from him rings truer than almost any other line in the series, and shows us the extent of Dumbledore’s Machiavellian tendencies.
“You have used me. […] I have spied for you and lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to be to keep Lily Potter’s son safe. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter —” (DH687)
This is it in a nutshell. Dumbledore manipulated Harry only so Harry could die when needed; he ruthlessly used Snape’s love for Lily to employ Snape as a spy, lying to Snape the entire time about why, and then made Snape a pariah when Snape killed him.
While these are the most striking and tragic examples, there are others to be found. I discuss in “Dumbledore’s Decoy” how Dumbledore used the prophecy in Order of the Phoenix as a decoy for Voldemort, and allowed members of the Order to fight and almost die for it, based on the necessary lie.
All of this is done elegantly, and with impressive ruthlessness. There is an argument to be made for the necessity of something like this, because all of these actions are about bringing Voldemort down. But it’s chilling, how much Dumbledore was willing to sacrifice to bring about Voldemort’s downfall.
It can be said that the utilitarian argument applies here, that Dumbledore is just trying to make things as good as possible for as many people as possible. And for his utilitarian ends, he will sacrifice anything and anyone… including himself. There is the interesting parallel between Dumbledore’s death in HBP and the chess match in Sorcerer’s Stone. Ron, the black knight (Dumbledore), sacrifices himself by allowing the white queen (Snape) to kill him. This leaves the opportunity for Harry to defeat the white king (Voldemort) (SS283).
I think this is a moot point, because Dumbledore does not choose to die when he could have lived. Ever since the Ringcrux curse affected Dumbledore, he knew he would die within a year. The night he actually dies, eleven months are already up, and he is weakened from a nasty potion. Even if by some odd chance he survived the battle against all the Death Eaters, he would still die within a month. So although his death will be for the greater good, he still chooses a death that would be quick and painless for him, and we don’t know fully how self-sacrificing he really is.
I don’t believe Dumbledore would have sacrificed himself for the cause. Alive, Dumbledore is just about the greatest asset that the side of good has. Therefore, by Machiavellian reasoning, Dumbledore should stay alive at all costs, except perhaps if there’s a choice between Harry and Dumbledore. But it never came to that, and Dumbledore seems Machiavellian through and through.
What Was He Thinking?
Upon thinking about it some more, something does not seem to add up. Considering how desperate Dumbledore was to see Voldemort defeated, considering the prices he was willing to pay to see it done, it just seems like he should have been much more thorough about it. He seemed to leave an awful lot to chance.
Let’s ignore the fact that Harry knows essentially nothing about Horcruxes or how to destroy them – we can assume Dumbledore was planning on showing Harry after they got the locket (though, if Dumbledore only had a month left to live, this seems to be cutting it rather close). Dumbledore also had to get Gryffindor’s sword to Harry so that Harry could destroy the Horcruxes. How is this accomplished? By Phineas Nigellus overhearing where the Trio is camping through his portrait, so Snape could go and deliver the sword. If that’s not luck, I don’t know what is! It would have been much more sensible to tell Harry, during one of their Horcrux lessons, “By the way, if I should kick the bucket, grab Gryffindor’s sword from my office right away!”
But that seems well thought out and reasonable compared to some of the other parts of Dumbledore’s plan. Dumbledore’s plan reaches its climax when Nagini is the last remaining Horcrux, at which point Snape has to find Harry and show him the memories that will inform Harry that he needs to die. There are so many potential disasters in this plan, it’s ludicrous.
- What if Nagini is not the last remaining Horcrux? What if Harry somehow manages to kill her before finding Ravenclaw’s relic? Snape won’t know to do anything.
- If Snape is needed at Hogwarts, and Voldemort is to be kept away from Hogwarts, how will Snape even know what’s going on with Nagini?
- What if Snape doesn’t find Harry? Surely the two won’t be hanging out on a regular basis.
- Why would Harry listen to Snape or look through his memories? If Snape were alive, I’m fairly certain Harry would not have taken Snape’s memories… not without a lot of convincing.
- What if Harry doesn’t have a Pensieve ready when he does get the memories? I believe there’s a lot of emphasis on how rare they are.
- What if Snape dies?!? There is no contingency plan that we know of. No one else knows Harry needs to die. The entire thing goes to hell.
All things considered, about a dozen fortuitous coincidences have to occur for Dumbledore’s plan to actually work. This haphazard manner is such a departure from the Dumbledore of previous books that I didn’t quite know what to make of it. If Dumbledore is willing to sacrifice so much to defeat Voldemort, he should be absolutely certain of his plan working. Instead, Dumbledore seems to be treating the entire war as a rather amusing game. The conclusion drawn is that Dumbledore is not benign, but cold and calculating; and instead of having all his bases carefully covered, he leaves most things up to chance. So what gives?
The Flaw in the Plan
Dumbledore bares his soul to Harry the most in the climax of Order of the Phoenix, when he is talking about the prophecy and his plan to take care of Harry. And this very illuminating quote emerges from that conversation:
“Do you see, Harry? Do you see the flaw in my brilliant plan now? I had fallen into the trap I had foreseen, that I had told myself I could avoid, that I must avoid. […] I cared about you too much,” said Dumbledore simply. “I cared more for your happiness than your knowing the truth, more for your peace of mind than my plan, more for your life than the lives that might be lost if the plan failed.” (OP838)
It seems to me as if this entire quote can be applied to two plans. The first – the one Dumbledore speaks of in context – is to tell Harry about the prophecy and about his destiny to defeat Voldemort. However, taken out of context this quote can apply almost exactly to Dumbledore’s other grand plan: that of Harry sacrificing himself so the Scarcrux is destroyed.
Once Dumbledore began suspecting that Harry has a bit of Voldemort’s soul in him (which likely happened in Goblet of Fire once the soul bit became very pronounced), Dumbledore must have realized that Harry would have to die in order for Voldemort to be killed. When Harry relates how Voldemort used his blood to regenerate, Dumbledore has an infamous “look of triumph” in his eyes (GF696). This meant that Voldemort had tethered Harry’s life to his own; by using Harry’s blood to regenerate, which included Lily’s protective charm, he ensured that Harry would not be killed by Voldemort should it come to that. In other words, Dumbledore now had a slim hope that Harry might survive the destruction of the Scarcrux.
However, there was no guarantee. All of this magic was completely unprecedented, and Dumbledore confesses that he only “guessed” at all of this (DH710). So Dumbledore still believed that, when the time came, there was a very real possibility that Harry would die.
But when the time came for Dumbledore’s scheming and plotting, when he set up a course for Harry to follow after learning that he (Dumbledore) only had a year to live, he fell into the exact same trap. He cared too much about Harry, and wanted to delay the moment when Harry might have to die.
This quote also gives the reason why he did not tell Harry of his upcoming sacrifice. Surely by the end of HBP, Harry had proven himself to be exceptionally selfless, and he would have embraced his mortality. Dumbledore argues that “Harry must not know, not until the last moment, not until it is necessary, otherwise how could he have the strength to do what must be done?” (DH685) This is very feeble reasoning indeed, coming from someone who has watched Harry as closely as Dumbledore did. His high opinion of Harry must have made it clear that Harry would, in fact, do what was needed. But Dumbledore “cared more for [his] happiness than [his] knowing the truth, more for [his] peace of mind than [the] plan.” Otherwise, Dumbledore would have informed Harry of the sacrifice that was needed, and Harry would have proceeded as necessary.
Dumbledore cared “more for [Harry’s] life than the lives that might be lost if the plan failed.” This statement is touching in the context of Order of the Phoenix, because the only life that has been lost thus far is Sirius’s – which is tragic, to be sure, but not overwhelming. But when that statement is applied to the grander plan, it takes on a quite sinister tone. Dumbledore was gambling hundreds of lives, he was gambling the entire future of the wizarding world, in order to keep Harry alive and happy a little longer.
So perhaps Dumbledore was Machiavellian, but when it came to Harry, he was very reluctantly so.
Now, I feel we have talked about Dumbledore’s plans in the abstract for far too long, and I thank you for bearing with me. Let’s take a closer look at what was brewing inside the Headmaster’s brilliant head. I must warn you, from this point forth, we shall be leaving the firm foundation of fact and journeying together through the murky marshes of Dumbledore’s mind into thickets of wildest guesswork. Figuring out Dumbledore’s plans in my previous two essays was difficult and confusing. Figuring out his ultimate plans in Deathly Hallows is a Herculean task that requires pages of notes taken from the last three books, the reconciling of myriad contradictions, and the extraction of copious coincidences. From here on in, I may be as woefully wrong as Humphrey Belcher, who believed the time was ripe for a cheese cauldron. 2
Plan A: The Horcruxes
The first of Dumbledore’s plans is surprisingly straightforward, involving Harry destroying the Horcruxes and then sacrificing himself. Note that these plans are all formed during Half-Blood Prince, once Dumbledore is aware he will not live to see the end of the war play out. If he had not gotten the deadly curse, everything would have been different. But, knowing he had a year to live, Dumbledore made plans for what would happen after his death.
- Snape becomes master of the Elder Wand, keeping it out of Voldemort’s filthy hands.
- Harry destroys all the remaining Horcruxes somehow.
- Harry is alerted to the fact that his scar is a Horcrux.
- Harry sacrifices himself to destroy the Scarcrux.
- Harry’s willing sacrifice imbues the wizarding world with the same protection that Harry got from Lily’s sacrifice, ensuring that Voldemort cannot hurt them anymore.
However, from here on the plan can go in different directions. This is the direction Dumbledore anticipates it going in, and what he hopes for.
- Because Harry is tethered to life by Voldemort, he should theoretically not die when Voldemort tries to kill him.
- Harry comes back to life and proceeds to defeat Voldemort.
Dumbledore can be reasonably assured that these first five steps will go according to plan. Let’s put the Elder Wand aside for a minute, since that has no bearing on the rest of Plan A. Assuming Harry manages to not get himself killed, he should be able to get rid of the Horcruxes eventually. This destruction of Horcruxes is the top priority, and Dumbledore does not mess with this part of the plan (except for the glaring oversight of not getting Gryffindor’s sword to Harry in an efficient manner; however, this can be attributed to Dumbledore planning to inform Harry about it after they destroyed the Locketcrux). Then, once Harry is informed of the Scarcrux, he will doubtless go to sacrifice himself, because that is who Harry is. And the protection spell should work out fine as well.
The complications arise in the last two steps – namely, whether Voldemort tethering Harry to life (by using his blood to regenerate and therefore keeping the enchantment of Lily’s sacrifice alive) would be enough to keep Harry actually alive. Dumbledore thinks this is what will happen, however, “[Harry] and Lord Voldemort have journeyed together into realms of magic hitherto unknown and untested.” (DH710) So Dumbledore cannot be sure whether Harry will live or not.
If Harry does survive (the supposed and preferred outcome), he then goes about defeating the newly mortal Voldemort. This would still require prodigious skill, since Lord Voldemort’s powers are formidable, but Dumbledore believes it can be done, especially since Harry will have good allies. But a contingency plan is needed.
Plan B: Snape’s Redemption
This plan is concerned with the eventuality of Harry dying by Voldemort’s hand. The first five steps are the same as Plan A. But then it diverges.
- Voldemort succeeds in killing Harry.
- Thanks to the protection from Harry’s sacrifice, and the fact that Voldemort’s now mortal, another reasonably talented wizard should be able to kill Voldemort.
- Ideally, Snape uses the Elder Wand to defeat Voldemort, thereby clearing his name.
So let’s say Harry does not survive the sacrifice. Dumbledore has planned for this possibility as well. If Harry ends up dying, his sacrifice should offer protection for all those on the side of good. Therefore, any of Harry’s allies could take up the fight against Voldemort, and since they will be protected from Voldemort’s magic, it’s reasonable to assume they would be able to defeat Voldemort.
This does not even clash with what the prophecy says – namely, that Harry is the “one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord” (OP841). In this case, Harry was the one with the ability to protect the world from Voldemort, empowering someone else to actually do the vanquishing. And in this case, Harry is the one who dies at the hand of Voldemort, so the prophecy works out either way.
Dumbledore must have prepared people for this eventuality, no doubt by telling the most powerful of his allies something along the lines of, “Harry will be the one to defeat Voldemort. However, should Harry die, it falls to you to kill Voldemort.” At the very least, Dumbledore told Snape this, and he ensured that Snape should be well equipped to kill Voldemort by making Snape the master of the Elder Wand (see Plan A).
I think Dumbledore intended Snape to have the Elder Wand so Snape could be the one to defeat Voldemort should Harry fail. This is supported by the following exchange:
“[…] you meant [Snape] to end up with the Elder Wand, didn’t you?”
“I admit that was my intention,” said Dumbledore (DH721)
I’m sure that Dumbledore originally meant to die without having the power of the Elder Wand transfer to anyone else, but once it became clear that he would not live long enough to defeat Voldemort after the Scarcrux was gone, the plan changed.
The plan for Snape to master the Elder Wand shows just how much faith Dumbledore had in him. He essentially painted a bulls-eye on Snape’s back when he conceived of this plan. He says he knew Voldemort would go after the Elder Wand (DH721), and Dumbledore would surely not underestimate Voldemort’s intelligence, and ability to figure out that Snape was the wand’s master. Dumbledore was hoping that Snape had enough cunning to keep himself alive despite this.
This all seems to me the most reckless part of Dumbledore’s plan. His plan hinged on keeping two people alive through the war: Harry and Snape. And while he did his utmost to keep Harry alive (as I will go into momentarily), he seemingly trusted that Snape would be able to stay alive despite overwhelming odds. This was his most serious misjudgment, and it was only chance that ended up saving the day at the end.
On the upside, this plan would have offered Snape a chance for redemption should Snape live long enough to see it through. If Snape defeated Voldemort using the Elder Wand, he would be hailed as a hero by the good side, who would forgive him for killing Dumbledore. Perhaps this was Dumbledore’s small gesture of atonement for the hell he sentenced Snape to – a year of loneliness and exile, devoted to keeping the students as safe as he could with no one but Dumbledore’s portrait to talk to.
So Dumbledore has his plan ready, and can be reasonably confident in Voldemort’s downfall whether Harry lives or not. He prepares Harry for hunting the Horcruxes. All he has to do is set the stage for Harry to sacrifice himself. Thus far, all perfectly Machiavellian. But this is where Dumbledore’s emotions got in the way, and he started messing with his plan.
Plan C: Slowing Things Down
Plan A seems to be well thought out and sensible in its execution, with the glaring exception of Step 3: alerting Harry to the need for his death. I’ve already said that the only reason for Dumbledore not telling Harry this in Half-Blood Prince was to keep Harry happy. However, the way in which Harry is finally told is so convoluted that I can only assume it was designed to be intentionally slow. Anything else is an insult to Dumbledore’s intelligence, because there are a million ways in which he could have told Harry. Instead, he slows it down by falsely necessitating three things, in a separate Plan C:
- Voldemort has to find out that Harry is hunting Horcruxes. Otherwise, he will not fear for Nagini and keep her close, so Snape will not know to alert Harry.
- After Voldemort is worried for Nagini, Snape has to interact with him and learn of this.
- Snape then has to find a way of getting to Harry and letting him know about the sacrifice.
Ignoring the problem of how Snape will get Harry to listen to him, these three points are a dangerous gamble, but not an absurd one… upon making several assumptions.
- Voldemort will only find out about Harry’s Horcrux hunt after Harry has destroyed all the Horcruxes but Nagini. Otherwise, Harry is royally screwed. But since the whole plan goes to pieces if Voldemort finds out about the Horcrux hunt, and it’s extremely unlikely Harry will be able to kill Nagini without alerting Voldemort, this seems like a fair assumption to make.
- After learning of the Horcrux hunt, Voldemort will have an opportunity to chat with Snape. Also reasonable, since Voldemort will likely start marshalling all his Death Eaters in his paranoia about Harry defeating him.
- After learning of the Horcrux hunt, Voldemort will not have the opportunity to make additional Horcruxes. This is the biggest logical flaw in all of this, since it seems like Voldemort would immediately start making more Horcruxes upon finding that the existing ones have been destroyed. I think that here, Dumbledore was counting on Voldemort’s vanity and weakness for drama to save the day… he counted on Voldemort wanting to make grand and powerful objects into Horcruxes, using significant deaths, and this would have slowed Voldemort down considerably. Still, it seems like a risky assumption.
- After Snape has seen Nagini’s new protected status, he will have the opportunity to talk to Harry before things come to a head. Tricky, since Snape and Harry won’t be spending lots of quality time together, but feasible considering Snape’s resourcefulness.
In other words, Dumbledore is relying on a very precise sequence of events occurring within a fairly narrow timeline for all of this to work. But evidently, Dumbledore was willing to deal with the risk if it meant prolonging Harry’s life by a little bit. Dumbledore is risking everything just to buy Harry that little bit of time between Voldemort finding out about Horcruxes and Harry finding out about the Scarcrux.
However, this plan completely falls apart because the first assumption is false. You know what they say about assuming… safe to say, this is as good a cautionary tale as any. Assumption (i) was that Voldemort would find out about Horcruxes after only Nagini was left… however, he finds out when the Diademcrux is still in play. In other words, the timeline narrows exponentially because Harry now has to destroy the Diademcrux before Voldemort has the chance to make new ones.
As if that isn’t bad enough, something completely unforeseen happens: the final Horcrux ends up residing at Hogwarts… where Snape is! Thus, the timeline of Dumbledore’s carefully crafted plan narrows to mere hours. I’m sure Dumbledore never, in his wildest dreams, thought that Harry would be destroying the last Horcrux and Nagini, and sacrificing himself the very same night.
From here on out it’s just incredible luck that things work out so Snape ends up delivering the information to Harry, albeit via Pensieve, which I don’t think Dumbledore intended (and it was certainly very silly if he did). Dumbledore’s plan to stall before Harry’s possible death failed epically. But that wasn’t the only plot brewing in Dumbledore’s brilliant mind.
Enter the Hallows
There is a curiosity about Deathly Hallows – namely, why bother with the titular Hallows at all? After all, the Hallows don’t have much bearing on the battle between Voldemort and Harry, with the exception of the Elder Wand. Harry unites them and becomes Master of Death, but that does not turn out to mean much. As Dumbledore explains, “the true master does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying.” (DH721)
So finding the Hallows turned out to be about Harry accepting he must die? Sorry, I don’t buy it. If we know anything about Harry, it’s that he would be willing to die with or without Hallows. Also, it seems like there isn’t that much special about being master of Death – after all, Lily and James both accepted they must die, and so did Dumbledore, and so did many other people… are they all masters of Death? And if so, then the Hallows are indeed superfluous.
Most of what Dumbledore says in his final conversation with Harry can be taken at face value. But there is one statement that stands out as his usual enigmatic half-truth: “I too sought a way to conquer death.” (DH713) I think Dumbledore intended to use the Hallows to make Harry the master of Death in the traditional way – making Harry unable to die.
This would be a classic Dumbledore plot. Not only would he be giving Harry a better chance of survival – what if, on the odd chance, the Hallows did make him master of Death in the immortal sense? – but he would also prolong Harry’s life quite a bit by sending him hunting for the Hallows instead of the Horcruxes.
This seems uncharacteristically reckless of Dumbledore, but he essentially confesses as much, when he tells Harry he “counted on Miss Granger to slow [Harry] up.” (DH720) So Dumbledore intentionally sent Harry on a time-consuming quest for the Hallows, because it would prolong Harry’s life, and it might give him a better chance at survival. This almost seems like the childish procrastination of a student, but it seems to make sense.
Of course, there seems to be an error here: how could Dumbledore have planned for Harry to master the Hallows, when he only mastered them by defeating Draco, which wasn’t part of the plan at all? I think a similar thing happened here as with Plan C, where the end result was the one intended, but everything else went wrong. But before we analyze what went wrong, let’s look at Dumbledore’s final plan.
Plan D: Mastering the Hallows
- Leave Hermione The Tales of Beedle the Bard, sending the Trio on the hunt for the Hallows rather than the Horcruxes.
- Trust that it will take Voldemort considerable time to trace the Elder Wand back to Dumbledore, leaving it in the tomb for now.
- Bequeath the Resurrection Stone to Harry, but encased within the Snitch, ensuring he cannot get to it until the time is right.
- During their heart-to-heart about Harry having to die, Snape also allows Harry to Disarm him, thereby making Harry the master of the Elder Wand. While the wand itself is still hopefully safe in Dumbledore’s tomb, Harry will open the Snitch, and therefore be master of all three Hallows.
These are the four steps Dumbledore had in mind to make Harry Master of Death before he is about to die. I will admit the last one is pure conjecture, but it seems to make sense along with everything else.
What I find interesting is that Dumbledore did not plan for Harry to actually use the Resurrection Stone or Elder Wand, only to own them. The wand is better off in Dumbledore’s tomb, where it will hopefully stay forevermore and cease causing havoc. The barred access to the Stone is a more interesting question. But Dumbledore gives us some insight on why this is:
“Harry, I only feared that you would fail as I had failed. I only dreaded that you would make my mistakes. I crave your pardon, Harry. I have known, for some time now, that you are the better man.” (DH713)
“I was afraid that your hot head might dominate your good heart. I was scared that, if presented outright with the facts about those tempting objects, you might seize the Hallows as I did, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. If you laid hands on them, I wanted you to possess them safely.” (DH720)
This shows that Dumbledore did still have the big picture in mind, despite how derailed his plans were by this point. He wanted to delay Harry, but he was not willing to risk Harry just getting caught up with the dead and ignoring his Horcrux-hunting duties forever. To be fair to Dumbledore, this is a reasonable concern, because Harry has shown a fascination with death, and upon Dumbledore’s untimely end, the temptation may have overpowered Harry. Only once Harry had fulfilled his mission and was facing his death, would Dumbledore allow him to indulge and seek comfort from the deceased.
Step 4 may be the most controversial part of this whole editorial, but it seems to me to be the only thing that makes sense. Dumbledore talks in the “King’s Cross” chapter as if his plan all along has been for Harry to be Master of Death, but he certainly did not plan for Draco to ever be the master of the Elder Wand, and he definitely didn’t count on Harry wrestling Draco for wands. Also, considering all the trouble Dumbledore went to in order to have the Trio pursue the Hallows, it seems a waste if Harry wasn’t meant to master the wand in the end – then the only added benefit would be Harry’s moment of comfort on the way to death, and while I think Dumbledore intentionally delayed the Trio, he would not send them on a wild goose chase at so pivotal a time.
Of course, the implications of Step 4 are enormous. The biggest one is that Dumbledore essentially scrapped the latter part of Plan B – the part where Snape is exonerated by defeating Voldemort with the Elder Wand. I’m sure the first part of Plan B was still in place – the part where Snape hopefully defeats Voldemort, or at any rate someone does. But Dumbledore took away Snape’s most important tool for the job, so Harry would stand a slightly better chance of surviving.
At first glance, this seems incredibly cruel of Dumbledore with regard to Snape, but it is not out of character. The only person Dumbledore truly cares about is Harry; Snape is a useful tool, but no more. Dumbledore pours all of his resources into helping Harry. Meanwhile, he makes Snape a pariah by having Snape kill him, puts Snape into deadly situations on a regular basis, mercilessly exploits Snape’s love for Lily in order to help Harry, and makes Snape Voldemort’s eventual #1 target by making him the master of the Elder Wand. While I hold very little love for Snape, even I pity him for this.
When Plans Go Wrong
Most of the plans I have listed here did go horribly wrong at some point or other, but none more so than the last one. Dumbledore’s Plan D hinged on Harry becoming master of the Hallows. Cloak? Check. Stone? Check. Elder Wand? About that…
Harry explains it all to us, and to Voldemort, at the climax of the series.
“The Elder Wand recognized a new master before Dumbledore died, someone who never even laid a hand on it. The new master removed the wand from Dumbledore against his will, never realizing exactly what he had done, or that the world’s most dangerous wand had given him its allegiance….”[…]
“The true master of the Elder Wand was Draco Malfoy.”[…]
“I [Harry] overpowered Draco weeks ago. I took this wand from him.”[…]
“I am the true master of the Elder Wand.” (DH742-743)
Dumbledore’s elaborate plan for Harry to master the Hallows falls apart moments before Dumbledore actually dies, when Draco Disarms Dumbledore and becomes the master of the Elder Wand. This means that Snape is not its master, which means that Harry will not become the wand’s master by defeating Snape. Plan D should be scrapped at this point
However, it’s far too late to do anything about it! The book and Snitch were already bequeathed to Hermione and Harry, respectively – Dumbledore’s portrait can’t exactly snatch them back from the Ministry. Since Harry never comes to talk with the portrait or Snape, there is no opportunity to tell him that the Hallows quest is folly. Harry somehow mastering the wand by defeating Draco is almost completely out of the realm of possibility, since they certainly won’t be dueling anytime soon and it would be silly to attempt facilitating such an event.
So Harry continues pursuing the Hallows (which at least accomplishes one of Dumbledore’s goals – procrastinating until Harry’s death). Even worse, Snape is now a target for Voldemort, without any actual benefit from that. “Poor Severus” (DH721) indeed!
But luck and happenstance succeed where Dumbledore’s plans failed. Through a series of unforeseen events, Harry ends up a prisoner at Malfoy Manor during the week that Draco is home for the holidays, putting them in a perfect position for a facedown. And in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, Dumbledore’s last plan gets back on track: “Harry took his chance: He leapt over an armchair and wrested the three wands from Draco’s grip” (DH474). This action is not even deigned its own sentence, yet it changes everything, because Harry defeats Draco and masters the Elder Wand by doing so.
To be clear, I do not think that Dumbledore ever planned for what happened in the final duel between Harry and Voldemort: that Voldemort, in possession of the Elder Wand, would have a Killing Curse rebound because Harry was its true master. There is no mention in the books, amidst all the discussion about mastering the wand, that indicated Dumbledore planned for Voldemort to actually own the wand. He knew that Voldemort would be searching for the wand, but he did not expect Voldemort to succeed. I think Dumbledore expected Snape to be able to keep the wand from Voldemort, trusting to Snape’s own prodigious skill and cunning to outfox Voldemort; however, Voldemort’s quest for the Elder Wand was done mostly on the down-low, so Snape would not have been able to do anything.
Putting Plans in Their Place
“But, no, I really wanted, very consciously, for the history of the wizarding world to hinge on this moment where two teenage boys have a physical [fight]. They don’t even do it by magic.
“That sort of puts all of Voldemort’s and Dumbledore’s grandiose plans in their place, doesn’t it? You just can’t plan that well, that something can go wrong and it went wrong … It went wrong because Harry managed to pull this wand out of Draco’s grip.”3
I have to say, this is one of my favorite quotes of Jo’s from any of her interviews. It really puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? Dumbledore had so many carefully laid plans before he died. He planned for eventualities and had backups, and then in the end, most of his plans ended up completely useless.
Plan D (making Harry the master of Death) worked through a lot of coincidences, after being rendered obsolete by Draco Disarming Dumbledore. But it wasn’t needed, because Voldemort tethering Harry to life ended up being enough
Plan C (delaying the moment Harry finds out he has to die) failed because Dumbledore hadn’t realized that Voldemort hid a Horcrux in Hogwarts. Considering all the psychoanalysis Dumbledore did of Voldemort, this is surprising.4 In addition, Dumbledore relied on things happening in a certain order, which also didn’t come to fruition.
Plan B (Snape defeating Voldemort should Harry die) never had the chance to come to pass, on account of Harry not dying. Snape would not have defeated Voldemort, on account of predeceasing Harry, but someone else probably would have after receiving protection from Harry’s sacrifice.
And the only plan that did end up working was Plan A – destroying Horcruxes, Harry sacrificing himself and coming back to life in order to defeat Voldemort. Sometimes, the most straightforward plan is the most effective. Harry also got the added bonus of not having to actually kill Voldemort, but that wasn’t part of the plan.
Since I can only imagine how much your head must be spinning by now (since I know mine is), here is a handy diagram of all of Dumbledore’s plans that I discussed in this essay. As you can see, there are two key moments: Harry finding out he has to die, and the actual sacrifice.
Conclusion: To Love or Hate Dumbledore?
If you have made it this far, you truly deserve a pat on the back! Bravo!
In case you’ve forgotten amidst all the talk about Dumbledore’s myriad plans and their numerous failures, I was attempting to prove a point with all of this. And the point is a fairly straightforward one.
Dumbledore was Machiavellian. He did what he believed needed to be done in order to defeat Voldemort. He fought for the greater good. In the course of this battle, he behaved quite ruthlessly. His plans entailed keeping Harry alive until the moment when he had to die, and keeping Snape alive for the role he had to play in enacting Dumbledore’s plans after Dumbledore died. Dumbledore was incredibly cruel towards Snape, manipulating him and his love for Lily, sentencing him to endure awful things, and making him a target for Voldemort.
But Dumbledore’s Machiavellian tendencies did have a limit, and that limit was Harry. The sensible and utilitarian thing to do would have been to allow Harry to sacrifice himself, to die if need be, in order for Voldemort to be defeated. And although Dumbledore knew that must happen eventually, he struggled against it in every way he could. He procrastinated, he delayed things, he set up schemes to give Harry a better chance of survival. And luckily for all involved, Harry did indeed survive.
This conclusion I’ve reached, after almost five years of puzzling about Dumbledore, I am reasonably confident in. The information we have seems to fit it. However, it is the evaluation of this that is trickier by far.
The practical (more Ravenclaw) side of me is appalled by this dangerous sentimentality. Dumbledore let people die, he gambled the entire future of the wizarding world, on keeping one boy alive and happy just a little bit longer. Thinking about it logically, this is horrible and damnable and I should hate Dumbledore all the more for it.
But I can’t bring myself to hate Dumbledore now, because this just pulls on my heartstrings. The fact that Dumbledore loved Harry so much, that he was willing to risk everything because he cared about Harry, is something worth admiring in my opinion. It shows that Dumbledore is human after all, and this is a very human thing to do. All I wanted after Deathly Hallows was proof that Dumbledore actually cared about something, other than his greater good – that there was some shred left of the benevolent wizard we’d thought we knew in the first six books. And so, I can finally say that after five confusing years, I am back to loving Dumbledore almost as much as I did when I first wept for him in Half-Blood Prince.
“In other words, I acted exactly as Voldemort expects we fools who love to act.”
- Albus Dumbledore (OP838)
4 As an aside, Dumbledore’s general lack of action in regards to the Diademcrux is confusing – surely he would have thought to ask the Gray Lady about her mother’s artifacts? I can only conclude that Dumbledore ran out of time. In my second Dumbledore essay (“What Did Dumbledore Know of Horcruxes?”), I assert that Dumbledore would not have known how many Horcruxes there were until Harry got Slughorn’s memory, and by then Dumbledore had his hands full with all the known Horcruxes.