I know the Harry Potter train is so long gone, most of us can’t even see the back of it. An unexpected series of events, however, lead me to recall and old frustration I had with this impressive character, so I figured a short rant was in order.
Recall the Story
Near the end of the fourth book, there was a crucial moment between Harry and Dumbledore, one that caused much speculation when the text was first published. Harry returns from the graveyard, tortured and beaten, having witnessed the rebirth of the Dark Lord. As he recounts the tale for Sirius and Dumbledore, he tells them that his own blood was used in the regeneration. At that moment there is a “look of triumph” on Dumbledore’s face, but he makes no further comment.
It is not until the finale sequence of the series that we discover what information Dumbledore gleaned at that moment, that evaded the rest of us: upon taking in Harry’s blood into himself, Voldemort “re-doubled the connection between them,” and ensured that his living body kept Harry’s mother’s sacrifice alive. This double connection ensured that, when Voldemort fired the killing curse at Harry in that lonely forest in book 7, Harry did not die. The unintentional 7th horcrux that had lived inside him was blasted away, but Voldemort’s living body ensured that Harry would survive again. So he did.
The Greater Good
Nobody seems to call attention to what this admission really means. Had Voldemort not used Harry’s blood, the killing curse would have finished the full job: Harry and the 7th horcrux would be gone.
But wait right there. Are we to suppose that Dumbledore anticipated this sequence of events? Had he known 13 years earlier as he laid out his “plan” for Harry’s protection, that this double-bond would eventually be formed? It seems not, from the triumphant look he lets slip in the fourth book. The meaning of this is simple: for the first 13 years of Harry’s life, Dumbledore’s full intention was to train him up, and send him to die, just like he told Snape. He never meant for Harry to survive, because as long as he did, Voldemort’s immorality was ensured. He planned to one day sacrifice Harry for the greater good, a motivation that had lead him astray even in his youth.
It seems to be serendipitous that his plan was able to manage a last-minute rewrite, and for the last three books only, was the possibility of Harry’s survival even an option.
Another victim to run afoul of Dumbledore’s plans for the greater good is the tragic double-agent Snape. We discover in the dreamy-rendition of King’s Cross, as Harry encounters Dumbledore, that it was part of his plan all along for the elder wand to fall to Snape’s hands.
The plan would have meant the elder wand lost its great (and terrible) power: having never been really defeated (Dumbledore’s murder having been pre-arranged and even pleaded for), Dumbledore’s old wand would have seized to be the elder wand, and become merely a wand like any other.
It seems unfathomable, however, that Dumbledore would not have understood the implications of this decision. Indeed he shows every sign of guilt in the story for Snape dying in the manner he did. Voldemort was inevitably going to seek out Snape to claim the wand as his own. Once again, Dumbledore was more concerned with servicing the greater good: terminating the power of a deadly object. This was a much greater priority for him than the inevitable horror it would summon upon his supposed friend. The backfire in the plan was only that Malfoy ended up as the owner of the wand, and therefore its powers were not broken. This was not enough to save Snape, although it does not seem like saving him was every Dumbledore’s purpose.
The Bottom Line
The books and character accounts make it clear that Dumbledore is supposed to be a character of immense good, and his darker undertones are portrayed only as fleeting traits from his youth, and sore but benign temptations for power, all of which he was able to keep in check nearly all of his adult life.
This polished account seems to glosses over the sticky fact that Dumbledore actually remained dedicated to the greater good, at the expense of many other characters, throughout the novel. In my mind, this makes him much more like the other “imperfect heros” of the story, from the obvious Snape who is evil as well as loyal — or Ron, who abandons his friends — or even Harry himself, who was drawn to the dark arts twice, in books 5 and 7 (not counting an unintentional third time in book 6). These other imperfect heros stumble through their role, combating their personality and passions. Dumbledore is of a different mold, because his wickedness is as premeditated as they come, and his lies more tightly wrapped still.
Or, in a sentence, Dumbledore was kind of a dick.