Dumbledore’s Decoy

by hpboy13

Hello folks! Sorry about the lack of updates – real life has an annoying habit of getting in the way, and college is even worse with limiting productivity! That, and seeing Europe, and working on my novel have kept me from writing. And I’m afraid that it’ll be several weeks, perhaps even a month or two, before the next essay. However, let’s focus on the positive: we are delving deep into the glorious area of book discussion! And before I forget, this essay owes a huge debt of gratitude to John Kearns’s Harry Potter Companion (hpcompanion.com), where I got to hash out the books chapter by chapter with some brilliant HP fans.

I have mentioned previously that Order of the Phoenix is my least favorite of the books. Not for any of the usual reasons: I never had issues with CAPSLOCK!Harry or Sirius dying. Rather, it’s because the entire book seemed rather pointless, to be honest. All the other books move the story along as a whole, but what does OotP accomplish? After 800-odd pages, we have learned that… (drum roll, please!) Harry and Voldemort will have to kill each other! Gee, who saw that coming? [/sarcasm]

Really? After all the hype and hoopla, we found out what should have been obvious from the first book: that the hero will defeat the villain. In vain, people tried to find meaning in the prophecy. I don’t know how many of you were on MuggleNet back in 2003 and 2004, but what a time it was! Instead of all the Horcruxes debate, the fandom spent two years analyzing the prophecy. It was taken apart, every word analyzed and every ellipse examined, as people looked for loopholes and alternate meanings.

But we now have the gift of hindsight, and know that there really was no dramatic revelation to be found in the prophecy. Okay, moving on. But let’s build up that fourth wall again, and look at it from the point of view of the characters. Yes, it’s important and significant to Harry… but it really should not matter that much to anyone else in the wizarding world. After all, there’s nothing really to be gleaned from it. So why all the fuss?

Well, that question is answered rather easily: the prophecy is a decoy. It serves to keep Voldemort busy. It’s Dumbledore and his machinations again, being five steps ahead of everyone else. But this raises lots of burning questions about how and why it was done. So let’s dive right in.

Voldy’s Evil Agenda

Let’s look at this from Dumbledore’s point of view, going back to the end of Goblet of Fire. Voldemort has just returned to power. And because Dumbledore knows Voldemort, Dumbledore can guess what’s on Voldy’s agenda (it’d be kind of obvious, anyway).

Lord Voldemort’s Evil To-Do List, June 1995
1. Kill Harry Potter. Really, that boy has grown just too irksome!
2. Kill Albus Dumbledore. With Dumbledore gone, no one will be able to oppose me. Muahahaha! This will also make achieving point #1 much easier.
3. Spring Death Eaters from Azkaban. Need more loyal and intelligent supporters. This will help to achieve point #2. Not to mention, Bellatrix Lestrange is hot!
4. Take over Ministry of Magic. Those fools are ignoring my return, which will make killing/Imperiusing them very easy. I will now be supreme ruler of the British wizarding community! Muahahahaha!!
5. Start Mudblood genocide.
6. Live evilly ever after!

We can surmise that this is accurate based on Books 6 and 7, but I’m sure Dumbledore was shrewd enough to figure it out. And quite frankly, stopping all these plots would take far too much energy. Better to start trying to bring Voldemort down with a head start, so Dumbledore needs to find something innocuous to occupy Voldemort while he begins working. And then he is visited by one of his more brilliant ideas: since Harry escaped Voldemort, Voldy will be obsessing over how to kill this boy once and for all. Voldemort will try to glean information from the prophecy. Dumbledore says as much during his “tell-all” conversation with Harry at the end of OotP.

“And so, since his return to his body, and particularly since your extraordinary escape from him last year, he has been determined to hear that prophecy in its entirety. This is the weapon he has been seeking so assiduously since his return: the knowledge of how to destroy you.” (OP740)

So why not keep him chasing after the prophecy while Dumbledore starts doing productive things to stop him? I’ll get into just what Dumbledore is getting up to later in the essay, but let’s just assume he has things he’d like to be doing without Voldy breathing down his neck. Now the question is whether the prophecy actually contains the knowledge of how to destroy Harry.

Is It Really a Wild Goose Chase?

I’d argue that chasing after the prophecy is a wild goose chase. Let’s look at what the prophecy actually says:

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives … the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies …” (OP741)

First, let’s keep in mind that Voldemort already knows almost half the prophecy because Snape overheard it. According to Dumbledore, “He heard only the beginning, the part foretelling the birth of a boy in July to parents who had thrice defied Voldemort.” (OP743)

Of the information that’s left, there are two main points. The first is that “the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not.” But this is all in the past already, and Voldemort already suspects Harry has some power that he does not. This information would be no help to him.

The second point is that “either must die at the hand of the other.” Well, Voldemort certainly intends to kill Harry, so that information does not really help him either. In short, there is no information that Voldemort can glean from this prophecy that would merit so much fuss being made about it.

What’s more, after two years of the fandom agonizing over this prophecy, and several months of Harry worrying about it, Dumbledore comes right out and tells us that it doesn’t matter! During one of his private lessons with Harry in Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore gets very agitated, and finally tells Harry, “You are setting too much store by the prophecy!” (HBP476)

Even Harry feels the anticlimax of all this. “ ‘So, when the prophecy says that I’ll have “power the Dark Lord knows not,” it just means — love?’ asked Harry, feeling a little let down.” (HBP476)

Harry believes that the prophecy requires him to kill Voldemort, but Dumbledore disagrees, and moreover exclaims that, “It is essential that you understand this!” (HBP477) Dumbledore then explains to us, conclusively, that the prophecy does not matter at all.

“Imagine, please, just for a moment, that you had never heard that prophecy! How would you feel about Voldemort now? Think!”
[…] “I’d want him finished,” said Harry quietly. “And I’d want to do it.”
“Of course you would!” cried Dumbledore. “You see, the prophecy does not mean you have to do anything! But the prophecy caused Lord Voldemort to mark you as his equal… in other words, you are free to choose your way, quite free to turn your back on the prophecy! But Voldemort continues to set store by the prophecy. He will continue to hunt you… which makes it certain, really, that —“
“That one of us is going to end up killing the other,” said Harry.
“Yes.” (HBP478-479)

And there you have it. The prophecy’s only importance in the story is the back-story it provides on why Voldemort initially attacked Harry and set this entire chain of events in motion. At this point, Harry and Voldemort will fight to the death regardless of the prophecy, and Dumbledore is well aware of this.

So that leads me to conclude that Dumbledore used the prophecy as a decoy to keep Voldemort busy during his first year back. But what’s astonishing is how far this deception went, and how Machiavellian Dumbledore was about the whole thing.

The Order’s Role

Dumbledore really funnels all of his resources into keeping Voldemort away from the prophecy. Considering what is being guarded, this appears totally unwarranted – but if the prophecy is a decoy, then it would be a top priority to keep it from Voldemort.

One of the Order’s main tasks is the guard duty over this object. Logistically, this is impressive: Dumbledore puts in the effort to sneak someone into the Ministry undetected to keep a 24/7 watch on this prophecy. And considering the entire Order of the Phoenix seems to be roughly twenty people, that is a considerable portion of their resources being used to guard this prophecy and keep Voldemort at bay.

But here is the scary part: the Order does not actually know that they are guarding a decoy. They seem convinced that keeping Voldemort from this prophecy is a matter of life and death, not just a stalling technique. After Mr. Weasley gets attacked by Nagini, Sirius says, “there are things worth dying for!” (OP420) He is evidently convinced that protecting this thing is one of those worthy things. And Dumbledore does nothing to disabuse the Order of this notion, not even when Sturgis Podmore is carted off to Azkaban or Mr. Weasley gets almost fatally attacked by Nagini while on guard duty.

And digging deeper, it becomes evident that the Order does not even know what it is they are guarding!

[Sirius said,] “In any case, gathering followers is only one thing [Voldemort]’s interested in. He’s got other plans too, plans he can put into operation very quietly indeed, and he’s concentrating on those for the moment.”
“What’s he after apart from followers?” Harry asked swiftly. He thought he saw Sirius and Lupin exchange the most fleeting of looks before Sirius answered.
“Stuff he can only get by stealth.”
When Harry continued to look puzzled, Sirius said, “Like a weapon. Something he didn’t have last time.” (OP90-91)

This passage is Jo at her finest – misdirection galore! She makes it appear as if the Order knows all there is to know – but if one looks at the information given, it looks like the only thing the Order knows is that they are guarding something in the Department of Mysteries that Voldemort is trying to get. And that this is what Voldemort is concentrating on at the moment.

For years, this passage bothered me. Why on earth does Sirius refer to the prophecy as a “weapon?” This term is emphasized quite a bit throughout the rest of the book as a red herring for us and for Harry. But Sirius is always direct with Harry and would not intentionally deceive him. And I doubt he would view it as Dumbledore did, where the “weapon” is the knowledge of how to destroy Harry.

The only logical conclusion is that Sirius – and, by extension, the Order – truly believes that they are guarding a dangerous weapon from Voldemort. And this is just blatantly untrue. But it’s also classic Dumbledore.

Aberforth says of his brother, “Secrets and lies, that’s how we grew up, and Albus… he was a natural.” (DH453) Dumbledore never trusted anyone completely, and would not trust the Order with the information that they were a mere distraction for Voldemort. Rather, he allowed them to believe that they were doing something worth risking their lives for, thereby ensuring the ruse was complete. And he was willing to let members nearly die just to keep Voldemort occupied a little longer. One just hopes that whatever he was taking this time to do was worth it…

What’s Dumbledore Up To?

So, now we’ve established that the prophecy was meant to keep Voldemort busy while Dumbledore set his own plans into motion. Evidently, Dumbledore was working against Voldemort at the time, and not just through telling people he’s returned. And I think we can all guess what he was up to: Dumbledore was hunting down the Horcruxes.

Doesn’t it strike you as odd that the Horcrux hunt only began in Half-Blood Prince? After all, why wait to start hunting them down? Well, actually, the hunt began when Umbridge kicked Dumbledore out of Hogwarts. We know that it takes Dumbledore the better part of a year in HBP to track down the locket Horcrux. Yet in July 1996 (summer between Books 5 and 6), Dumbledore found and destroyed the ring Horcrux. My guess is that Dumbledore spent his time since leaving Hogwarts in OotP hunting down the ring Horcrux. After all, before Dumbledore leaves we get this little gem: “ ‘Oh no,’ said Dumbledore, with a grim smile, ‘I am not leaving to go into hiding.’ ” (OP548) No indeed, Dumbledore is going off to do some Horcrux hunting!

And this fits in perfectly with my theory. Dumbledore probably realizes that one of Voldemort’s top priorities is killing him. And if Dumbledore wants to hunt down Horcruxes unmolested (which he does, for if Voldemort finds out, that defeats the whole purpose), he had better make extra-sure Voldemort’s attention is focused exclusively on something else. And of course, the plan works swimmingly – Dumbledore gets several uninterrupted months of Horcrux hunting without anyone being the wiser.

In fact, I would argue that he was actually planning for something like this. Certainly, he seems prepared when Umbridge discovers the DA and goes on the warpath. Considering how concerned he is about the students of Hogwarts, it seems rather unlike Dumbledore to leave them at Umbridge’s mercy just to cover up for Harry and the DA, unless he had something rather important to be doing. And in his little speech to Fudge, Dumbledore indicates that he does have important plans: “I could break out [of Azkaban], of course — but what a waste of time, and frankly, I can think of a whole host of things I would rather be doing.” (OP546)

Of course, this is partially Dumbledore being snarky for the heck of it. But everything Jo writes is there for a reason, and I believe that this was her signal that Dumbledore had something important to be doing at the time.

It almost seemed as if Dumbledore was waiting for an opportunity to be “kicked out” of Hogwarts. Certainly he could have stayed if he so wished, but at first opportunity, he invites Fudge and Umbridge to “force” him to go on the run. This makes sense – Dumbledore cannot go Horcrux hunting if it would make Umbridge and Fudge suspicious, but once he saw an opening to leave for a few months, he took it. It just illustrates how crafty Dumbledore is.

Of course, there appears to be a slight discrepancy here: Dumbledore doesn’t go on the run until late April (according to the Lexicon’s calendar), but keeps Voldemort chasing after the prophecy (with increasing effort) for ten months before that. What was he up to during that time?

My guess is research. After all, Dumbledore had to obtain all the memories he could find of Tom Riddle and exhaustively look through them for information. He showed Harry the relevant selection of these memories, but I’m sure that was just the tip of the iceberg. To get those memories, Dumbledore must have looked through dozens and dozens of memories, found myriad false clues, worked on connecting the dots. It’s very easy to figure out what’s going on from the memories Harry sees, not so much if looking at all possible data about Tom Riddle. Not to mention all these memories – useful or useless – had to be obtained, sometimes with great difficulty.

In fact, I think his acquisition of Slughorn’s altered memory happened during Order of the Phoenix. But now this essay is already the longest I’ve written, and I have a half-finished college paper glaring at me from the corner, so I will address the intricacies of Dumbledore’s Horcrux hunt in my next editorial. For now, suffice to say Dumbledore was kept very busy researching Horcruxes during the first half of Book 5.


Whew, are you still with me? Let’s recap. The prophecy that everyone spent a year worrying about was essentially of no importance, but only Dumbledore knew this. Dumbledore used the prophecy to send Voldemort on a wild goose chase, and used the unwitting Order to keep Voldemort occupied for a year, while Dumbledore started researching and then hunting the Horcruxes. This allowed him a head start on attempting to defeat Voldemort, with no one to bother him.

An interesting follow-up question is when was this plan set into motion? And I believe that Dumbledore came up with this on the spot when Harry informed him that Voldemort had returned. Dumbledore spent the night revealing everything to Harry about the wands and Crouch Jr. and everything Harry could possibly want to know… except the prophecy.

Whatever Dumbledore says to the contrary about not wanting to put Harry through more suffering that night, he certainly didn’t seem to shy away from putting Harry through whatever he felt necessary. Dumbledore didn’t tell Harry about the prophecy so it wouldn’t get back to Voldemort – he didn’t tell anyone, so as to ensure his decoy worked perfectly.

So while I still feel that Book 5 is the weakest of the series, it is rather impressive to think about how many strings Dumbledore is pulling behind the scenes… and how thoroughly Jo must have planned this all out. The best part is that Dumbledore’s plan went off so well – Voldemort got so incredibly caught up in his grand schemes, as he is wont to do (honestly, I suppose walking in and grabbing the damn thing would have been far too easy for him), that Dumbledore got some crucial time that turned the tide of the war.


Ever wondered how Felix Felicis works? Or what Dumbledore was scheming throughout the series? Pull up a chair in the Three Broomsticks, grab a butterbeer, and see what hpboy13 has to say on these complex (and often contentious) topics!

This essay is part of Irvin's (a.k.a hpboy13's) book The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, where it has been revised and updated. Pick up that book if you would like a longer and more in-depth exploration of the topic!

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