What Was Dumbledore Plotting? – Part 1: The Hallows and the Elder Wand
As you may know, I am the author of The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, and I have recently been revising the book for its upcoming third edition to be published by Media Lab Books. Sophia has read my book, and we have been enjoying a spirited debate about the minutiae of Dumbledore’s schemes. I think regular visitors to the Three Broomsticks, particularly those who have read Life and Lies, would enjoy reading her arguments.
So please raise your butterbeer and welcome Sophia! And since I’m never one to let others have the last word, I’ll be posting some rebuttals in the comments to continue the debate while updating some of my own theories in the upcoming Life and Lies 3.0.
I am going to start my response at the most complicated point, the part where debate is the most nebulous since the text is so contradictory. Although it’s hard to say for certain one way or the other, I’m going to offer an alternative explanation for the clashing statements about what Dumbledore wanted to have happen to the Elder Wand after his death. Unlike you, I do not believe that Dumbledore intended Snape to be the master of the Elder Wand. Your analysis makes a lot of sense if you take Dumbledore completely literally, but I’m tempted to interpret his confirmation of wanting Snape to have the Elder Wand slightly differently. For one, I am not convinced that the wand’s allegiance would have transferred over to Snape even if Draco had not disarmed Dumbledore. As Harry says, “Snape never beat Dumbledore!” (DH 742). If Dumbledore’s death had been planned between them, then it seems logical that the Wand would not recognize Snape as its true master. However, this is a murky area of magic that has never been fully traversed. Dumbledore might not have known whether the Wand would transfer to Snape or whether its power would die with him. In fact, the result may have depended on Snape’s own loyalties. Dumbledore said to Snape, “You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation” (DH 683). Whether Dumbledore’s death is murder or mercy depends largely on Snape’s own feelings about it. If he were doing it as a favor to Dumbledore, then I don’t think the Elder Wand would belong to Snape. If, however, he killed Dumbledore partly out of rage and hatred (which may be justified after all that Dumbledore has put him through), then the Elder Wand might see his act as one that defeated Dumbledore.
Therefore, I think that the fate of the Elder Wand was not exactly something that Dumbledore could plan, although he might have hoped for one thing more than the other. I think, in fact, that Dumbledore was probably of two minds about what he wanted to happen with the Wand. The practical Dumbledore, looking toward the endgame, would not want Snape to end up with the Wand, whereas the compassionate Dumbledore would.
Let’s start with the practical Dumbledore. Dumbledore must have known, as soon as he asked Snape to kill him, that he was, as you said, putting a target on Snape’s back. This sacrifice was necessary for the endgame because Dumbledore wanted to make sure that not just anyone killed him, or else some other random Death Eater would end up with the Elder Wand. Since he was dying anyway, he could have died a natural death, making sure that the Elder Wand’s power died with him, but he needed to make sure that Snape stayed in Voldemort’s favor. He also knew that Snape was already intended to be the one who killed him if Draco failed. He needed Snape to be able to protect the students at Hogwarts for as long as possible and to keep acting as a spy. Given all this information, it only made sense for Snape to be the one to kill him.
If, then, it was necessary to send Voldemort after Snape, it would be incredibly risky for Snape to actually have ownership of the Elder Wand. Sure, the Wand would help him fight Voldemort, but Voldemort is still an incredibly powerful wizard with a whole army of Death Eaters on his side and potentially even a few of his Horcruxes left. I don’t think your theory that Snape was the backup in case Harry didn’t survive his sacrifice would make sense in this case because Voldemort would likely try to gain control of the Elder Wand before he met with Harry, and he would realistically probably find it before Harry managed to destroy all the Horcruxes. If Snape had the Wand and Voldemort managed to kill Snape, then Harry would be facing Voldemort with an all-powerful wand – which I’m sure Dumbledore did not want.
Why, then, would Dumbledore say to Harry that he wanted Snape to have the Wand? Harry says, “If you planned your death with Snape, you meant him to end up with the Elder Wand, didn’t you?,” and Dumbledore replies, “I admit that was my intention” (DH 721). There’s something intriguing about Dumbledore’s use of the words “I admit.” To me, that makes it seem like Dumbledore is slightly self-conscious about this plan. My interpretation of this phrasing is that although Dumbledore knew that – for his long game – he did not want Snape to have the Elder Wand, the compassionate part of him did. The truth was, in asking Snape to kill him, Dumbledore was sentencing Snape to death. After all Snape had done for him, Dumbledore was throwing him under the bus without even a warning. Therefore, I think Dumbledore did actually want Snape to have the Wand if only to protect himself. He did not morally feel like he could leave Snape to face Voldemort without any way of saving his own life. That did not, however, work out as planned, so as Dumbledore says, “Poor Severus” (DH 721).
This explains why Harry’s explanation to Voldemort about Dumbledore’s intentions is different from what Dumbledore himself says at King’s Cross. Dumbledore’s plan was, as Harry says, “to die undefeated, the wand’s last true master” (DH 742). Dumbledore’s other, secret hope that Snape would actually get the Wand is something that Voldemort could not even attempt to understand, so Harry does not try to explain it to him.
Since I believe that Dumbledore either didn’t want Snape to get the Elder Wand or wanted him to get it in order to protect himself, then I also disagree with your theory that Dumbledore intended Harry to become master of death. If Snape ended up with the Wand, then I don’t think Dumbledore would have wanted Harry to disarm Snape because that would leave Snape defenseless again. Why, then, did Dumbledore leave Harry all those clues about the Deathly Hallows? I think it was partly strategic and partly out of love. Dumbledore suspected that Voldemort was going to go after the Elder Wand, and he wanted Harry to know that and understand how it worked. For one thing, if Voldemort had the Elder Wand, Harry would no longer be able to rely on the protection of the twin cores. Voldemort having the Wand would also be pretty damaging for morale, so if Harry knew whether or not the Wand rightfully belonged to Voldemort, it could give him the strategic upper hand on the overconfident Dark Lord.
Yet I believe there was more feeling behind this decision too. Dumbledore says, “Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing” (DH 709). Leaving The Tales of Beedle the Bard for Hermione gives Harry other information that Voldemort cannot understand. “The Tale of the Three Brothers” tells Harry (with Hermione’s encouragement) that he will not be rewarded for searching for the Wand or the Stone. He is the brother with the Invisibility Cloak, which means he must sacrifice himself and meet Death as a friend. This is Dumbledore’s way of telling Harry what needs to be done without explaining that he is a Horcrux.
And the Resurrection Stone? The Resurrection Stone is a true sign of Dumbledore’s love. Dumbledore knows that in the last moments before sacrificing himself, Harry will be feeling betrayed and alone. He did not just give Harry the Resurrection Stone to allow him the support of his lost family in his last minutes. Dumbledore gave it to him as a gift that says, “I may have betrayed you, but I love you. I thought ahead, and I knew what you would need at this moment. Now you have to trust me.”
From Dumbledore’s conversation with Harry about the Hallows in King’s Cross, it seems clear to me that Dumbledore, rather than wanting Harry to search for the Hallows, thought that this search would be dangerous. He says, “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” (DH 720). Harry naturally had one of the Hallows (the Cloak) and – when the time was right – would have the second (the Resurrection Stone). Dumbledore was worried, however, that Harry would go searching for the Elder Wand, so he “counted on Miss Granger to slow [Harry] up” (DH 720). The only way to safely obtain the Elder Wand is to not go looking for power, and I don’t think that Dumbledore could have had a plan for how Harry could get the Wand without searching for it.
This interpretation is confirmed by Harry as well. Harry has a crisis of faith about Dumbledore in the seventh book, believing that he’s been left alone and in the dark, but he has a moment of faith renewal when digging Dobby’s grave on Easter. He realizes how much Dumbledore knew, how much he planned for, and he thinks to himself, “Am I meant to know [about the Elder Wand], but not to seek? Did you know how hard I’d find that? Is that why you made it this difficult? So I’d have time to work that out?” (DH 483). Given the strong religious symbolism of Harry’s Easter epiphany, I think we have to believe that Harry is correct in his estimation of Dumbledore’s plans here. When it comes to the Hallows, Harry is supposed to know but not to seek.