Albus Dumbledore and the Sorcerer’s Stone
At the end of Sorcerer’s Stone, there is a brief exchange among the Trio that first introduces us to the idea of Dumbledore’s omniscience:
“D’you think [Dumbledore] meant you to do it?” said Ron.
“Sending you your father’s cloak and everything?”
“Well,” Hermione exploded, “if he did — I mean to say — that’s terrible — you could have been killed.”
“No it isn’t,” said Harry thoughtfully.
“He’s a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he sort of wanted to give me a chance. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know. I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help. I don’t think it was an accident he let me find out how the mirror worked. It’s almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could….”(SS302)
Now, we could just take this at face value – Dumbledore knew everything and planned everything – and just leave it at that… but where would be the fun? So, upon my fourteenth reread of the series this summer (it’s an annual tradition going back to 2002!), I paid very close attention in Book 1, to try to discern exactly what Dumbledore planned and did throughout Harry’s first year.
That’s right, it is time to once again delve into Dumbledore’s machinations!
I will tackle two separate things here. First, I will look at the protections surrounding the Sorcerer’s Stone, and see what I can glean of Dumbledore’s intentions from these protections. Then I will look at all the events of Sorcerer’s Stone to see where I detect Dumbledore’s hand pulling the strings.
Part 1: Protecting the Stone
Before we begin, let’s recap what the protections are:
- Hagrid provided Fluffy, who could only be gotten past by playing him some music; a fact that “[n]ot a soul knows except [Hagrid] and Dumbledore” (SS232).
- Sprout provided Devil’s Snare, which Professor Sprout explained in class “likes the dark and the damp” (SS278) and can therefore be fought off by fire; “Conjuring up portable, waterproof fires was a specialty of Hermione’s.” (CS183)
- Flitwick charmed a bunch of flying keys, only one of which would open the door; Harry “had a knack for spotting things other people didn’t” as “the youngest Seeker in a century.” (SS280)
- McGonagall transfigured a giant chess set to life, on which one had to win a match in order to get past; wizard chess is Ron’s specialty.
- Quirrell provided a very large troll; Quirrell knocked it out so Harry and Hermione didn’t have to, but the Trio had already defeated a troll seven months prior.
- Snape provided a logic puzzle; the brainy Hermione starts “smiling” when she comes across a logic puzzle she doesn’t hesitate to solve (SS285).
- Dumbledore himself hid the Stone within the Mirror of Erised, so “only one who wanted to find the Stone — find it, but not use it — would be able to get it” (SS300).
It is clear to any careful reader that protections two through six are meant to be gotten through specifically by the Trio. Four of the tasks play directly to the Trio’s areas of expertise – Seeking, chess, fire, and logic. The other one, the troll, is simply a repeat of what the Trio has already faced. Clearly, Dumbledore meant for Harry to get to the Mirror of Erised, same as Quirrell. The protections are even designed to be surpassed more than once – hence the potions refill themselves and the chessmen reset themselves. They are also designed for a group of people – hence there are several brooms by the flying keys instead of just one.
A common point I’ve seen made is that, far from saving the Stone, Harry actually endangered it. Quirrell could have stared into the Mirror of Erised until he turned blue, and he still would not have the Stone. But then Harry shows up and the Stone ends up in his pocket, ripe for the taking by Quirrellmort. So if Dumbledore intended for Harry to go after Quirrellmort, why did he also endanger the Stone?
I subscribe to the answer that John Kearns wrote about in his superb essay, Philosopher’s Stone – Dumbledore’s Perspective. I very strongly recommend reading that essay; it is incredibly insightful and informs this editorial a lot. The gist of it is that Dumbledore intended Harry and Quirrellmort to face off, but for the Stone to remain safely inside the Mirror.
Dumbledore says himself, “Harry, have you any idea how few wizards could have seen what you saw in that mirror?” (HBP511) Dumbledore could not have known how pure of heart Harry was, how ridiculously selfless he was at the age of eleven. Moreover, Dumbledore had proof to the contrary! A scarce five months earlier, Dumbledore watches Harry look into the Mirror of Erised at least twice, and knows that Harry sees himself standing with his family. Surely, anyone reasonable would think, this poor boy’s deepest desire will remain his family for the next five months, and will not change to thwarting Voldemort’s plots.
So, Dumbledore intends for Harry to face off against Quirrellmort, without endangering the Stone. But, like most of Dumbledore’s best-laid plans, this goes terribly awry when Harry looks into the Mirror and gets the Stone, and suddenly Quirrellmort’s attention is focused on Harry instead of the Mirror.
Dumbledore knows that “Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch [Harry]” because of Lily’s sacrifice (SS299). He also knows that the time will come – hopefully much later, but eventually it will – for Harry to face off against Voldemort. So this would have been a very good trial run: Harry would face off against Quirrellmort, he would emerge victorious because Quirrellmort cannot touch him, and that will be that. The Stone’s not in danger, Harry isn’t in too much danger. Not only will this give Harry some valuable Voldy-fighting experience, it will also be an important confidence booster.
It is this same reasoning that explains the presence of protections two through six. At first glance, why bother with all the “protections” surrounding the Stone? Only two of them were even remotely effective: Fluffy and the Mirror of Erised. The rest of them – Sprout’s Devil’s Snare, Flitwick’s flying keys, McGonagall’s chess board, and Snape’s riddle – are gotten through by a trio of first years, and don’t serve to hinder Quirrell at all.
Dumbledore tells Harry, “I have watched you more closely than you can have imagined” (OP839). Stick a pin in that, because I’ll get back to it. But along with watching Harry, he watched Ron and Hermione, once it became clear that they would be Harry’s closest friends and staunchest allies.
It’s made clear that Dumbledore has been watching Ron and Hermione in the latter books. He tells Harry in Half-Blood Prince, “I think you ought to relax [the decision to tell no one about the prophecy] in favor of your friends, Mr. Ronald Weasley and Miss Hermione Granger.” (HBP78) He also gives Harry permission to tell Ron and Hermione about his forays into Voldemort’s past via Pensieve, saying, “I think Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger have proved themselves trustworthy.” (HBP215)
It’s easy to dismiss this, but Dumbledore is perhaps the least trusting character in the series. He instructs Harry to reveal to Ron and Hermione things that are known only to Harry and Dumbledore himself. This is a big deal, and Dumbledore would not place such trust lightly, so this is evidence that he knows a great deal about Ron and Hermione.
We also see this come into play when he leaves both of them items in his will, despite making “exceptionally few personal bequests.” (DH124) He gave Ron the Deluminator, knowing that Ron’s commitment to the Horcrux hunt might waver (DH391). He gave Hermione Beedle the Bard to decipher, and trusted her to combat Harry’s rash nature (DH720).
But back in Sorcerer’s Stone, Dumbledore did not yet know if Ron and Hermione would be the staunch allies that Harry would later need. So, he needed a way of cementing their collaboration for the future. And what better way than to have them help him get to Quirrell? So, he decided to put in some barriers specifically for the trio to work their way through. This gives them valuable experience working together through magical obstacles, as well as confidence in having triumphed. And this is the reason for protections two through six, tailored specifically to their strengths – to establish the Trio as we know it.
And Dumbledore is meticulous about the setup here. All the tasks are designed to be passed through by the whole trio… until the last one before the Mirror, Snape’s potion puzzle. Here, there is a potion to move backwards as well as forwards – what is the need of this, if not to send Ron and Hermione back to safety? And as for the potion to move on to the next room: “There’s only enough for one of us” (SS286). Yet there’s no mention of there being not enough potion for more than one person to go back. The intention is clear: only Harry is to move on and face Quirrell, while Hermione and Ron are to go back.
Why is this? Because Ron and Hermione, unlike Harry, have no magical protection from Quirrellmort. And Dumbledore does care about students’ safety to some extent. So he doesn’t want to send Ron and Hermione into the fray, knowing they’ll likely be hurt – especially given Voldemort’s propensity for taking hostages. Oh yes, Dumbledore planned all this very carefully indeed.
So, the next question to answer is why Dumbledore had Quirrell do one of the protections, if he so clearly suspected Quirrell by that point? Not only does this make Quirrell’s job that much easier, by allowing him to know what the other protections are, but this could also hinder the trio. Sure, they took out a troll before, but as McGonagall says in the movie, it was “sheer dumb luck.”
I believe that Dumbledore did this with the intention of protecting Ron and Hermione – he needed Quirrell to get to the Mirror without issue so he wouldn’t face off against Ron and Hermione. If Quirrell hadn’t been privy to the protections surrounding the Stone, he might have actually gotten stumped by them – maybe he’s terrible at chess or something? (Side note: I now have a great mental image of Quirrell playing countless chess matches as practice for this one. Do you think Voldemort would have played the other side here, or am I venturing into AVPM territory?)
Anyway, if Quirrell couldn’t get past the chess board or something else, he would have run into the entire Trio there. And he likely would not have hesitated to kill them. Like I just mentioned, Ron and Hermione have no protection from him, and Dumbledore would have wanted to prevent them facing off against Quirrellmort. Hence, Dumbledore includes Quirrell in “protecting” the Stone in order to make Quirrell’s job easier, and make sure he’s well ahead of the Trio.
It is also worth noting that Dumbledore probably supervised these protections extremely closely. He likely did not tell the professors his reasons, but I’m sure he suggested the ideas to the professors, and made a sufficiently convincing case that they listened. He probably ensured that Professor Sprout would mention Devil’s Snare in class, since that plant seems to be rather different from the usual curriculum in Herbology (the younger students don’t generally deal with deadly plants).
The exception to this might be Snape’s puzzle – that one seems to fit Dumbledore’s plans so exactly that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t micromanaged. So perhaps Dumbledore trusted Snape enough to reveal the plan. But I think it’s more likely Dumbledore just told Snape exactly what had to be done, without explaining himself, and Snape obeyed because he knew to trust Dumbledore despite his secretive ways.
Dumbledore’s Invisible Hand
Now that we know what Dumbledore’s end goal was – to have Harry face off against Quirrellmort to gain some valuable experience – let’s examine how he imperceptibly influenced events for an entire year to get there.
Dumbledore has sources that keep him informed of Voldemort’s doings; in Book 2 they let Dumbledore know that Voldemort “is currently in hiding in the forests of Albania.” (CS328) So when these sources inform him that Voldemort is gone from Albania in 1991, Dumbledore knows to fear for the Sorcerer’s Stone.
He also knows that Quirrell was recently there, so Dumbledore probably suspects him to some degree. But Dumbledore is not sure, and wants to find out what’s up. So he decides he wants all this to happen at Hogwarts where he can keep an eye on things. It’s probably at this time that he concocts his plan to have Harry face off against Voldemort, so he has Hagrid pick up the Stone from Gringotts, in full view of Harry, giving Harry the first clue.
Then, he proceeds to set Quirrell, if Quirrell is indeed Voldemort’s agent, on the trail of the Stone. At the Start-of-Term Feast, he makes a very public announcement, that “the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death.” (SS127)
Honestly, he might as well have whispered in Quirrell’s ear, “Psssst! That’s where I’m hiding the Stone!” Even Percy notices how strange this announcement is, “because he usually gives us a reason why we’re not allowed to go somewhere” (SS127). But Quirrell takes the bait, hook, line, and sinker. The very next morning, Harry and Ron are rescued on the third-floor corridor “by Professor Quirrell, who was passing.” (SS132)
Dumbledore notices this, and tells Snape, “Keep an eye on Quirrell, won’t you?” (DH679) We don’t know precisely when this Prince’s Tale flashback takes place, but since Snape is ranting and raving about Harry, we can assume it was around the second or third week of the term. Dumbledore’s plan is working beautifully, since he already has confirmed that Quirrell is the one after the Stone.
Meanwhile, Dumbledore drops another hint to Harry, in the form of the news article Harry finds at Hagrid’s. Isn’t it odd that Hagrid would have a five-week-old news clipping lying around? I’m betting Dumbledore put it there for Harry to find – clearly, Dumbledore is using Hagrid to unwittingly feed Harry information.
Now, let’s talk about Fluffy, and what his role is in all this. Because Fluffy has a very specific role to play – otherwise, as Ron says, “What do they think they’re doing, keeping a thing like that locked up in a school?” (SS161) The Stone was perfectly safe within the Mirror, so why have a murderous three-headed dog sitting in the school, behind a door that’s susceptible to a basic Alohomora Charm?
I discussed in Dumbledore’s Deadly Plans how Dumbledore likes to control when things happen to suit his purpose, and it seems to me that’s what he’s doing with Fluffy. Fluffy is there to slow everything down, to allow Dumbledore to set the stage for Harry to go after Quirrell. He wants Harry to learn some magic, and he also wants to keep an eye on Harry to learn more about the boy before sending him to face down Voldemort. If Quirrell got right to the Mirror, he would take the Mirror and scamper, and there goes Dumbledore’s plan for the Harry vs. Voldemort showdown. By allowing Quirrell to glimpse Fluffy, that should keep Quirrell busy for quite some time, trying to figure out how to get past Fluffy.
Keep in mind that at this point, none of the other protections are in place. We only learn of protections other than Fluffy in February when the Trio assumes there must be other things guarding the Stone (SS227), and it’s not confirmed by Hagrid until weeks later (SS232), which is in April according to the Lexicon’s timeline.
The fact that the protections are tailored to the Trio means that they had to be put in place once Dumbledore actually knew about the Trio. Therefore, the very earliest the protections could have been put there is November, since Hermione wasn’t even friends with Harry until Halloween. Allow a few weeks to learn that Hermione really had become Harry’s friend for good, and for Dumbledore to learn more about Hermione, and it seems unlikely the protections were put in place earlier than December. But I think it may have been later than that. Hold that thought.
So, we know that between September and December, Fluffy was in place, and protections two through six were not. But was the Mirror (with the Stone in it) in place at this time? I believe not.
Dumbledore would not have wanted to risk Quirrell getting past Fluffy and fleeing with the Mirror before Harry had a chance to face him. So I think that Dumbledore, while making fanfare about Fluffy and what it’s guarding, actually kept the Mirror and the Stone elsewhere. Doesn’t matter where, since no one would know that the Stone was hidden inside the Mirror… for all we know, maybe it was in Dumbledore’s office the whole time! And meanwhile, he let Quirrell get on with trying to get past Fluffy, perhaps chortling at the thought of how peeved Voldy would be if they did get past Fluffy and found nothing there.
I think this is remarkably similar to his strategy in Order of the Phoenix surrounding the prophecy, which I discussed in Dumbledore’s Decoy: keep Voldemort busy trying to get past an obstacle that isn’t protecting anything of value.
So, after four months, it’s the Christmas holidays, Quirrell still hasn’t figured out how to get past Fluffy, and Dumbledore believes he knows enough about the Trio to start setting up the obstacles. But before that can happen, Harry needs to be told about the Mirror of Erised – having his first encounter with the Mirror be during his faceoff with Quirrellmort could be disastrous (picture Voldemort convincing the naïve eleven-year-old that what he sees in the Mirror will come to pass if Voldemort is resurrected). As Dumbledore tells Harry, “If you ever do run across it, you will now be prepared.” (SS214) So Dumbledore takes the Mirror out of hiding, wherever it was, to show to Harry.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that Dumbledore followed Harry on Christmas night. That was the day Harry got his Invisibility Cloak, and Dumbledore would have known that Harry would take it for a spin. Let’s face it, the odds of Harry stumbling onto the room with the Mirror are astronomical. Dumbledore probably waited outside the Gryffindor common room for Harry to emerge, followed him invisibly, and put the Mirror into the room that Harry is about to enter. Then, he likely watched with tears in his eyes as Harry looked into the Mirror and saw his family – the same vision that Dumbledore himself sees.
Dumbledore probably hoped that Harry would figure out what the Mirror did on his own, but Harry doesn’t, not even when he brings Ron the following night. And Dumbledore sees that Harry is consumed by what he saw in the Mirror, so on the third night he finally shows himself to Harry, and explains what the Mirror does. Then, he says, “The Mirror will be moved to a new home tomorrow” (SS213). Note that it’s a “new” home – I believe that this is when the Mirror was put underneath Fluffy’s trapdoor for the first time. And after the Mirror was in place, then Dumbledore had McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout, Snape, and Quirrell put their protections in place in early January.
Things then quiet down for a while, until Quirrell gets Hagrid drunk and finds out about Fluffy. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Dumbledore, the Trio has been sleuthing and made the Nicolas Flamel connection, realizing that the Sorcerer’s Stone is what Fluffy is guarding. We know that Dumbledore is unaware of this because he is surprised by Harry’s knowledge of Flamel (SS297).
After Quirrell finds out about Fluffy, his behavior likely tips Dumbledore off, and Dumbledore now needs to let the Trio know about the Stone. But Dumbledore doesn’t want his involvement to be known, so he waits for an opportunity to let Harry know in an inconspicuous way. And just such an opportunity presents itself when Harry and Hermione land themselves in detention!
At this point, something has been killing the unicorns in the Forbidden Forest, and Dumbledore has likely put two and two together and realized it’s Voldemort. So Dumbledore sees this as a good opportunity to tip off Harry about the Stone and about the fact that Voldemort is after it. He decides that the detention will take place in the Forbidden Forest.
This is the only plausible explanation for that detention – even by Hogwarts’s very lax standards, sending four first years into the Forest at night, when they realistically are no help in finding a dead unicorn, is absurd. It’s certainly not McGonagall’s style, and henceforth the detentions mostly consist of cleaning and other sensible things like that (with the exception of Umbridge’s detentions). So the idea for this detention was almost certainly part of Dumbledore’s plan.
One thing that always struck me as odd was that Firenze knew about the Stone. Why would Firenze, a centaur who has nothing to do with anything, know about it? Unless the meaning of “Mars is bright tonight” is “There’s a Sorcerer’s Stone hidden at Hogwarts,” there’s no way for Firenze to know about it… unless Dumbledore tipped him off. After Dumbledore planned Harry’s excursion into the Forest, he likely sought out the most trustworthy centaur, and instructed Firenze to watch over Harry and tell him about the Stone and Voldemort at an opportune moment.
Did Dumbledore plan the meeting between Harry and Quirrellmort? I’m leaning towards no, because that would needlessly endanger Harry and the other students. Also, Dumbledore doesn’t really have a way of knowing which nights Quirrell goes to drink the unicorn blood. (I think we can give Quirrell enough benefit of the doubt to not drink it on a regular schedule.) That run-in was a coincidence, but luckily Firenze was watching over Harry, and no harm was done.
Another subtle clue of Dumbledore’s involvement is that he returns the Invisibility Cloak to Harry that night. Why that night, of all of them? Because Dumbledore counted on Harry now knowing what’s going on, and equipped him with the Cloak to go after Quirrell.
Now the only thing for Dumbledore to do is to leave and allow events to unfold. Perhaps Quirrell just happened to choose the last day of Harry’s exams to send Dumbledore away, or perhaps Dumbledore waited until the exams were done so as not to interfere with Harry’s education. Either way, about a week after the incursion into the Forest, Dumbledore gets an urgent owl from the Ministry and “leaves,” allowing Quirrell and the Trio to go after the Stone.
Did Dumbledore actually go to London? Perhaps, but if he did, he certainly got back much sooner than he leads us to believe. Hermione tells Harry, “I brought Ron around — that took a while — and we were dashing up to the owlery to contact Dumbledore when we met him in the entrance hall — he already knew — he just said, ‘Harry’s gone after him, hasn’t he?’ and hurtled off to the third floor.” (SS302)
Dumbledore is all about timing. He wanted to give Harry some time to face off against Quirrell, but would then dash in to end things after a while. So he carefully planned it. After the potions puzzle, Harry would go to fight Quirrell, while Ron and Hermione would return. Dumbledore watched them go, then waited for Ron and Hermione to emerge, and would take this as his cue to go after Harry – this would give Harry enough time.
What Dumbledore hadn’t counted on was Ron getting injured and Hermione having to take time to revive him. That’s why he was frantic by the time Ron and Hermione got to him: he knew that they should have emerged sooner. That’s why Dumbledore “feared [he] might be too late.” (SS297) He also must have received quite a shock when he arrived and saw the Sorcerer’s Stone was no longer in the mirror! That was his first sign that he was dealing with an extraordinary boy.
So, in conclusion, Harry was quite right – Dumbledore did orchestrate much of what happened that year at Hogwarts. All the protections surrounding the Stone were meticulously planned by Dumbledore for the Trio. Like most of his plans, some things went wrong – like Harry getting the Stone out of the mirror, and Ron getting injured. And there were quite a few coincidences – Quirrell trying to steal the Stone just after it was taken, Harry meeting Quirrellmort in the Forest, and Harry finding out about Nicolas Flamel.
But on the whole, the plan turned out alright. Throughout the year, no one is really the wiser about Dumbledore’s scheming, and Harry now has his first victory over Voldemort. Meanwhile, Dumbledore can now relax… until the next time he needs to come up with some elaborate scheme.