The Two-Way Mirror #9: Dumbledore’s Plan

By Daniela

I was struck by the puzzling repetition of one word at the end of OotP in the conversation between Dumbledore and Harry. And as the topic of Dumbledore seems about ready to replace the topic of Voldemort in the editorials, with Maline Fredén’s latest Albus Dumbledore – Clueless or Calculating? and Brandon Ford’s, er . . . abandoned editorial idea on Dumbledore (see The Underground Lake #13), I thought this would be the time to present the following evidence for discussion.

In his explanation of his actions to Harry, Dumbledore repeats so many times the word “plan,” that I wonder what J.K. Rowling was trying to tell us. I doubt the word keeps hammering on for no good reason:

‘”Five years ago you arrived at Hogwarts, Harry, safe and whole, as I had planned and intended.'” (835, OotP)“‘Five years ago, then,’ continued Dumbledore, as though he had not paused in his story, ‘you arrived at Hogwarts [. . .] as normal a boy as I could have hoped under the circumstances. Thus far, my plan was working well.'” (837, OotP)

“‘Yet there was a flaw in this wonderful plan of mine,’ said Dumbledore. ‘An obvious flaw that I knew, even then, might be the undoing of it all. And yet, knowing how important it was that my plan should succeed, I told myself that I would not permit this flaw to ruin it.'” (837, OotP)

“‘You do not see the flaw in the plan yet? No . . . perhaps not.'” (837, OotP)

“‘Do you see, Harry? Do you see the flaw in my brilliant plan now?'” (838, OotP)

“‘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.'” (838, OotP)

Plan, plan, my plan, my brilliant plan…

It would seem, initially, that Dumbledore is just talking about his plan to keep Harry safe – so that he may vanquish Voldemort as the Prophecy foretold. But really, keeping Harry safe so that the Prophecy may be realized is not something that Dumbledore can call – again, and again, and again – “my plan,” is it? Or at least not “my brilliant plan” or “this wonderful plan of mine,” because it doesn’t seem to be Dumbledore who “had the idea,” does it? He is a facilitator of the Prophecy, but is that a reason to keep saying “my plan” so possessively? The way Dumbledore goes on about it, you would think it is he who has dreamed up the whole plan that Harry should be the one to vanquish Voldemort, that he has planned Harry’s whole past and future, before there was even a Trelawney and a Lily to come do their part in “his” plan.

Consider especially the alarming ambiguity of the sentence in which Dumbledore talks about Lily’s sacrifice:

“‘And so I made my decision. You would be protected by a certain magic of which he knows, which he despises, and which he has always, therefore, underestimated – to his cost. I am speaking, of course, of the fact that your mother died to save you. She gave you a lingering protection he never expected, a protection that flows in your veins to this day. I put my trust, therefore, in your mother’s blood.‘” (835-36, OotP).

Common sense and a sense of decency tells us that what he means is that he made his decision to rely on the mother’s sacrifice AFTER she made it, in order to continue to protect Harry. But there is something about the sentence structure that makes you do a double-take. Say what? Dumbledore decided that Lily should die? And then you read on, ah, ah, he decided to “trust” her sacrifice, ok. And yes, it is true, he says “‘[…] I made my decision. You would be protected […]'” as if that is the decision, not the death and sacrifice. But the protection happens twice, right upon Lily’s death and later in Harry’s life, so that Dumbledore’s decision to protect Harry doesn’t necessarily take us directly to 4 Privet Drive. It would just seem so much clearer what Dumbledore means if “I made my decision” came after “your mother died to save you,” if the sentence read something like this: ‘And then your mother died to save you, and I made my decision to put my trust in her blood.’ I have a feeling Rowling did this on purpose, that she wants us to be confused for a moment. Why? To see how ready we are to infer that Lily’s sacrifice itself may have been part of Dumbledore’s plan? Voldemort would seem to think Dumbledore capable of sacrificing people thus, when he invites him to kill Harry in MoM. But of course, perhaps Dumbledore doesn’t force “sacrifice” upon anyone. He just “watches it from afar” with his fateful eyes. The “time” confusion in this sentence makes me think of the time-turner confusion in PoA. Dumbledore suggested to Harry and Hermione to use the time-turner and save “more than one innocent life” as if he knew already the outcome and had planned the whole thing. The Patronus from the future that could fight back a hundred Dementors was there a bit too early in the game. Its presence can only be explained by an earlier interference – from Dumbledore – that took place before he suggested the time turner to Hermione. Dumbledore tells Harry: “‘I watched from afar as you struggled to repel dementors, as you found Sirius, learned what he was and rescued him'” (839, OotP). Did he just watch from afar, or did he plan a bit of what he watched? And did he watch/plan all this “before” or “after” the fact? If he saw it as it happened, why did he stand back?

How much of what happens to Harry does Dumbledore actually “plan”? How much of his “laissez faire” attitude is in fact a form of “lesson plan” for Harry?

Dumbledore seems to take a lot of credit in OotP by constantly saying “my plan.” And yet he does take a step back from full responsibility:

“‘It is my fault that Sirius died,’ said Dumbledore clearly. ‘Or I should say almost entirely my fault – I will not be so arrogant as to claim responsibility for the whole.'” (825, OotP)

It seems to me that Harry’s life and destiny have been shaped by two very important women: Lily, his mother who sacrificed her life to save him, and who allowed him thus to acquire that part of Voldemort which would allow him to defeat the Dark Lord in the end, and Sibyl Trelawney, the divination teacher, whose Prophecy sets the wheels of the whole story of Harry and Voldemort in motion.

Is Harry’s life “my” plan or “the” plan? What is the role of Dumbledore, the grand master of ceremonies, in this story that has been written by others than himself? Why does he keep referring to it as “his” plan? Dumbledore’s plan seems to be rather to make sure that Lily’s and Trelawney’s “plan” succeeds… or maybe neither Lily’s, nor Trelawney’s, nor Dumbledore’s, but the plan of those forces higher than ourselves, up in the sky… And yet, doesn’t Dumbledore have some kind of connection to the “sky”? I think of those wonderful robes of his, with stars, moons, and suns upon them…

Perhaps Dumbledore’s “plan” is choosing to “go along with the plan.” His “decision” is to make the most of Lily’s “choice” and the anonymous “decree of fate.”

And yet I can’t help puzzling over the question: is there more to “Dumbledore’s Plan”?

“‘The truth.’ Dumbledore sighed. ‘It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.'” (371, PS/SS)“‘There is a room in the Department of Mysteries,’ interrupted Dumbledore, ‘that is kept locked at all times. It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than forces of nature.'” (843, OotP)

Now, had Dumbledore “created” this force, or had anything to do with Harry’s harnessing of it, he could call the use of the wonderful and terrible force “this wonderful plan of mine”: the word “wonderful” would seem to indicate a connection… But the way he talks about it doesn’t seem to indicate he has anything to do even with Harry’s acquisition of the force. Harry simply seems to have it, already: “‘It is the power held within that room that you possess in such quantities […].'”

Is then Dumbledore’s “brilliant plan”… just the humble plan of keeping Harry safe – until he does his terrible and wonderful deed?

Or does his “brilliant plan” have something to do with the “way” in which he keeps Harry safe?

Here I would return to Maline Fredén’s statement about the importance of style in both Voldemort’s and Dumbledore’s actions.

Dumbledore’s style, of course, could be called brilliant…