NB: Throughout this post I have used in-text citations to chapters in the Harry Potter books. These citations follow the format of the book’s title in abbreviated form followed by the chapter number. For example, (PS1) would be a reference to the first chapter of Philosopher’s Stone.
In many ways, the Harry Potter series is really about Albus Dumbledore. The series follows the struggle between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, but in this struggle Harry is in fact more of a passive participant than he might at first seem. The active agent on the side of the light is, overwhelmingly, Dumbledore. After all, Harry’s involvement and role in the fight against Voldemort was put upon him; he did not seek out such an important role. Rather, the fight against Voldemort and the events of the entire series follow the plans of Albus Dumbledore.
Dumbledore’s plan was to eradicate Voldemort, at all costs. Indeed, he even sacrifices his own life for that very cause. Yet as we find out in Snape’s memories, he also planned – from the very beginning of the series – to sacrifice Harry’s life for that cause as well (DH33). I shall argue that Harry was not the only Potter whom Dumbledore sacrificed for the opportunity to defeat Voldemort.
I would like to point out that I do not believe that Dumbledore initially wished for the Potters to die, yet neither do I believe that he was ever unwilling to sacrifice them ‘for the greater good’. My theory is this: once the prophecy had been given, Dumbledore reasoned that the only way to defeat Voldemort was to allow the deaths of the Potters.
To argue this, I would like to point out some of the things that we know about Dumbledore both as a man and as to his actions throughout the series:
- Dumbledore is a master manipulator and will use anyone in any way to achieve his overall goal of defeating Voldemort
- Dumbledore knew of the prophecy and its contents (OOTP37)
- Dumbledore knew that Voldemort knew of the prophecy and its contents (DH33)
- Dumbledore knew that Voldemort had decided that Harry was the subject of the prophecy, and so would target the Potters to prevent the fulfillment of the prophecy (OOTP37)
- Knowing that the Potters were under threat, Dumbledore suggested that they hide from Voldemort using a Fidelius Charm (POA10)
- Dumbledore’s every action within Harry’s life was designed to bring him to the point where Harry could defeat Voldemort (DH33)
Thus, with these points in mind, I would argue that Dumbledore would go to any lengths to ensure that Harry becomes the perfect weapon for defeating Voldemort.
Before the prophecy is given, there are seemingly many ways in which Voldemort could be defeated. After the prophecy is given, there is only one: he needs to be killed by the subject of the prophecy, whoever that is. That subject could either be Harry Potter or Neville Longbottom, but Dumbledore is aware through Snape’s double-agency that Voldemort has already decided that the subject will be Harry (DH33).
Dumbledore now has a clear path to defeating Voldemort: use Harry Potter as the ultimate weapon against the Dark Lord. Yet there remains a problem, in that Harry is only one year old. How can a child so young be expected to kill Voldemort? What’s more, Voldemort is actively seeking to nullify the prophecy by making sure that Harry doesn’t survive long enough to become a threat. Dumbledore’s only solution is to find a way to protect Harry until he is old enough to defeat Voldemort.
It is at this point that Dumbledore decides to use Old Magic to protect Harry. He informs the Potters that they and their infant son are in danger, and advises that they go into hiding through use of a Fidelius Charm. Yet for Dumbledore’s plan to succeed, the Charm needs to be circumvented. At this point, the Marauders are already aware that there is a traitor in their midst. Dumbledore offers to be the Potters’ Secret Keeper, making out that he is worried about them using Sirius as their Secret Keeper for fear that said traitor would be able to betray the Potters’ location to Voldemort (POA10). Surely it is Dumbledore’s worry over the prospect of him being the Potters’ Secret Keeper that influences Sirius to tell James to change the Secret Keeper to Peter at the last minute (POA19). It is certainly no stretch of the imagination to believe that Dumbledore knew that Peter was in fact the traitor, and that influencing Sirius to step down as the Secret Keeper would result in Peter’s eventual betrayal of the Potters.
Once the fragile Fidelius Charm is in place, it is simply a matter of waiting. Peter will eventually tell Voldemort where the Potters are, Voldemort will then attack the Potters, and Harry will be placed under the protection of Old Magic in the form of his parents’ sacrifice which will keep him safe from Voldemort until he is old enough to be Dumbledore’s ultimate weapon in the Wizarding War.
In this sense, the Potters’ deaths become integral to Dumbledore’s plan once the prophecy has been given. While it would no doubt not have been Dumbledore’s first course of action, it did indeed become his only course of action, and at that point he would not have hesitated in following it through. And, in the end, Dumbledore’s plan worked.