Essay: Philosopher’s Stone – Dumbledore’s Perspective
by John Kearns, March 2009.
“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….” – Harry Potter (Philosopher’s Stone, chapter 17)
Part of J.K. Rowling’s genius is the stories that lurk just off the edges of her pages; nearly every book has a subplot “off-screen.” In most cases they’re resolved within the book (as with Barty Crouch’s confession in Goblet of Fire) or at least by the end of the series (as with Snape’s Pensieve scene resolving the mystery of Half-Blood Prince). But in Philosopher’s Stone, a huge subplot is just left hanging. That is: what, exactly, did Dumbledore know of the things that happened at Hogwarts that year?
Really this is not one mystery but two, each with the same basic question. The first is, how much did Dumbledore know about Voldemort’s attempt to get the Stone? And the second, more interesting question is, how fully did he realize that Harry, Ron, and Hermione were trying to thwart that attempt?
Let’s start with the easier question: Quirrell.
“Keep an eye on Quirrell, won’t you?” – Dumbledore to Snape (Deathly Hallows, chapter 33)
At some point in the past few years, Quirrell took a one-year sabbatical from Hogwarts. During that time he supposedly ran into trouble, and he has been nervous and stuttering ever since. In reality, of course, we know he ran into Voldemort – and the stuttering is a ruse, presumably invented to avoid suspicion. However, Dumbledore is the wisest wizard in a generation. And he is Not Fooled.
After all, Quirrell clearly doesn’t realize it, but he’s really not putting on a very good act. Dumbledore is an accomplished Legilimens. He may or may not use that skill on a regular basis, but he knew instantly, for example, when Harry discovered that Snape was the one to overhear the prophecy. Quirrell has shown up acting strangely, and it would only take the briefest of forays into his mind to realize that he’s up to something. Considering that Quirrell has morphed into a caricature overnight with no plausible explanation, it probably doesn’t even take that much. Dumbledore has to know; something’s going on.
“I taught Tom Riddle. I know his style.” – Albus Dumbledore (Half-Blood Prince, chapter 27)
In Chamber of Secrets we learned that Dumbledore keeps tabs on Voldemort’s location. He admittedly probably followed a little more closely once the Chamber was opened; but he didn’t develop his network of “sources” overnight. Dumbledore almost certainly has a rough idea of where Voldemort is hiding. And it wouldn’t take long to figure out that Quirrell went there on his trip.
It also wouldn’t take long to figure out that Voldemort disappeared from that spot right about the time Quirrell left.
Even if he doesn’t know these things, it would certainly be reasonable for Dumbledore to suspect that Voldemort might be behind Quirrell’s sudden change. When someone starts acting as crazy as Quirrell, Dumbledore always suspects Voldemort. He’s seen the worst of what Voldemort can do to someone, many times over.
There’s also another thing Dumbledore knows for certain. Someone is trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone from Gringotts. We don’t know how he found out – perhaps Quirrell tipped off Dumbledore’s buddies while running reconnaissance missions on the bank? – but we don’t have to. Dumbledore has to know. Because he chooses to have the Stone moved.
So Dumbledore has lots of information at his disposal: his common sense tells him Quirrell is lying; Legilimency confirms the hunch (and perhaps even reveals the full story); Quirrell bears all the classic signs of being overcome by Voldemort; Quirrell visited Voldemort’s hiding place during his sabbatical and Voldemort immediately disappeared from it; and someone is trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone from Gringotts.
Perhaps Dumbledore didn’t make every one of these connections. But he certainly made some of them – if he didn’t, he’s not the Dumbledore I’ve been reading about for seven years – and he doesn’t really even need half of this information to have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. He knows that Quirrell is working with Voldemort. And he knows this before the book even starts.
How can we be certain he knows so soon?
Because Quirrell introduces himself to Harry as his Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.
Back to that in a moment.
“Yes, the Dark Lord thought that I had left him forever.” – Severus Snape (Half-Blood Prince, chapter 2)
Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin lies Voldemort. He’s not in an ideal situation with Quirrell, who’s a “mediocre wizard” at best. But it’s all he’s got, so he’ll have to do.
When Voldemort has Quirrell bring him back to Britain, clearly his main goal in using Quirrell is to get the Philosopher’s Stone. But there’s a flaw – the Stone is tucked away in Gringotts, while Quirrell is stuck at Hogwarts. So Voldemort is faced with a choice: either Quirrell can quit and devote his time to the Stone; or, he can wait for summer so that Quirrell can then steal the Stone without losing his job.
Given these options, it seems that Voldemort chooses to delay his return to power, and has Quirrell return to his old post of Muggle Studies professor [as an aside, he has to have gone back to that post for a least a year, because when Hagrid introduces Quirrell, he says he’s “always” nervous and stuttering, and it doesn’t make sense if Quirrell is just coming off of his leave]. So why would Voldemort choose to wait?
He waits because he has more than one use for Quirrell. He wants Quirrell not only to steal the Stone and help Voldemort return to power, but also – I’m willing to bet –to serve as his spy at Hogwarts once he returns. After all, Voldemort no longer trusts Snape, his old spy, enough to ask him for help. So when they arrive in Britain, Quirrell returns to Hogwarts, leaves Voldemort somewhere else (no turban yet), and works hard on ensuring he won’t be suspected.
Except unlike Voldemort (or Snape, for that matter), Quirrell has no talent for deception. He’s not even sharp enough to realize Dumbledore’s on to him, so after a year of Muggle Studies he returns to Voldemort and proudly announces that he’s been promoted to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts.
The position that Voldemort himself cursed. And that Dumbledore knows he cursed.
In other words, Dumbledore has almost certainly figured Quirrell out. Why else would he put him on the fast track out of Hogwarts? Plain and simple, Quirrell screwed up. And Voldemort is Not Pleased.
When Quirrell breaks into Gringotts and finds the Stone already gone, Voldemort realizes far too late just how bumbling Quirrell has been – after all, it’s now clear he tipped Dumbledore off both that he was working with Voldemort and that he was going after the Stone. So Voldemort possesses Quirrell. The man’s usefulness as a spy is gone if Dumbledore’s on to him, so the fact that possession will destroy him is irrelevant. All that matters now is getting the Stone, and after that Quirrell won’t be needed. It’s too important that Voldemort keep watch over the situation himself, because the stakes just got a lot higher.
The Stone has been moved to Hogwarts.
And with Quirrell teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, Voldemort has exactly one year to try and steal it. He and Dumbledore both know it, and the stage is set for an epic battle of wills.
Oh yes, there’s one other small detail too. Harry Potter just turned eleven. This year will be his first at Hogwarts.
“Unless I’m much mistaken, [Voldemort] transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I’m sure….” – Albus Dumbledore (Chamber of Secrets, chapter 18)
Harry doesn’t realize it, but Dumbledore is keeping a very, very close eye on him. After all, he isn’t certain what Harry’s encounter with Voldemort will have done to him. Dumbledore probably breathed a sigh of relief when Harry was placed in Gryffindor, but he also noticed the minute or so it took the Sorting Hat to decide. And while Harry’s teachers are reporting (with the exception of Snape, naturally) that the kid is “modest, likeable, and reasonably talented,” Dumbledore’s probably also gathered that Harry’s no Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. So what was the Sorting Hat seeing in him that caused a debate? Perhaps Dumbledore is able to ask the Hat, perhaps not; either way the kid is worth keeping an eye on. There’s no question he got a little too close to Voldemort for comfort.
So Dumbledore asks Harry’s teachers to report on him, and probably some of the portraits and ghosts, too; perhaps he keeps an eye on him with his own version of the Marauder’s Map or even follows him around invisible on occasion. While all of these are great, though, what Dumbledore really needs is to find out not just what Harry is doing, but what sort of person he’s becoming. Someone who can get to know him not as a teacher, but as a friend.
Enter Rubeus Hagrid.
“Well, yeh might’ve bent a few rules, Harry, bu’ yeh’re all righ’ really, aren’ you?” – Rubeus Hagrid (Goblet of Fire, chapter 22)
Dumbledore certainly encourages Hagrid’s friendship with Harry. After all, it’s not a stretch – he and Harry have a lot in common. And with Hagrid himself fiercely loyal to Dumbledore, Dumbledore can be confident he’s getting the inside scoop. The friendship has other benefits, too; while he certainly wants to ensure Harry doesn’t become the next Tom Riddle, Dumbledore also wants to ensure Harry will be okay at Hogwarts (there’s no telling how other students will react to his fame). Hagrid is essentially picking up where Arabella Figg left off, checking in to make sure Harry’s okay both for the sake of the wizarding world and simply for the sake of Harry. And Hagrid reports the same thing Mrs. Figg does: he’s doing just fine. It’s not unexpected, but Dumbledore breathes a sigh of relief all the same.
However, this isn’t all that’s interesting about Hagrid. During Harry’s first year, he also jump-starts virtually every step Harry takes towards finding the Philosopher’s Stone. He gets the Stone out of Gringotts in plain view of Harry; he leaves the newspaper clipping on the table the day he invites Harry to tea – five weeks after it was published – so Harry learns of the attempt to steal the Stone; he lets Nicholas Flamel’s name slip out; and he sends Harry off alone in the Forbidden Forest, where he just happens to encounter Voldemort and then Firenze. If any of these four things hadn’t happened, Harry might not have gone after the Stone.
It’s because of this that conspiracy theories involving Hagrid are fairly common. The idea is that Hagrid was intentionally giving Harry all this information to secretly encourage him to go after the Stone. Despite the evidence I just laid out, however, I don’t buy this.
The fact remains that Hagrid didn’t control when he removed the Philosopher’s Stone from Gringotts (Dumbledore asked him to do it); he clearly doesn’t tell Dumbledore that he’s let Flamel’s name slip (Dumbledore is surprised by Harry’s knowledge of it); and he bawls uncontrollably when he thinks he’s put Harry in harm’s way by setting up his meeting Voldemort. What’s more, this is Hagrid we’re talking about – the one who makes it clear in about ten seconds that his wand is hidden inside his pink umbrella. If Hagrid is intentionally giving Harry information, he’s doing it secretly, connivingly and convincingly, in a way that I think is wildly out of character. It just doesn’t fit.
On the other hand, it does seem that someone is encouraging Harry to go after the Stone. And there just happens to be someone else with a vested interest who we know isn’t above a bit of conniving and secrecy.
“Oh, you know about Nicolas? You did do the thing properly, didn’t you?” – Albus Dumbledore, “sounding quite delighted” (Philosopher’s Stone, chapter 17)
From Harry’s perspective, Dumbledore is a most mysterious character. Consider his actions toward Harry during this school year:
- He has Hagrid retrieve the Philosopher’s Stone from Gringotts while Harry is with him.
- He gives Harry the Invisibility Cloak for Christmas, effectively encouraging him to wander the school after hours.
- He secretly watches Harry interact with the Mirror of Erised, and then explains it to him.
- The same night Firenze explains the Stone to Harry, Dumbledore gives him the Invisibility Cloak again. We know it’s him because in the U.S. editions of the book, the handwriting is the same as his first note.
- He arranges protections for the Stone that are unbelievably easy for three eleven-year-olds to get through. And these were supposed to keep out Voldemort?
- He also knows instantly, and seems completely unsurprised, when Harry has gone after the Stone.
There are a few other strange things going on too, that also seem to have Dumbledore’s stamp on them:
- Harry’s detention takes place in the Forbidden Forest, where his job is essentially to learn how Voldemort is staying alive. Who do we think decided this would make a good detention? McGonagall? Hagrid? Seems unlikely. It’s awfully dangerous, and it’s not as though four eleven-year-olds are actually remotely useful in this task.
- While on this detention, Harry runs into Firenze, who explains the unicorn blood and the Philosopher’s Stone. How does Firenze know about the Stone when the information is top secret? And why would he tell Harry?
- Oh, and what is Hagrid doing with a five-week-old newspaper clipping on his table, anyway?
This has all the markings of a classic Dumbledore plot. Everything happens under-the-radar, Harry is convinced that the ideas handed to him are in fact his own, and in the end, Dumbledore gets exactly what he wants.
The question is, supposing Dumbledore indeed wants Harry to go after the Stone, why on earth does he want it?
“And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives….” – Sybill Trelawney’s prophecy about Harry and Voldemort (Order of the Phoenix, chapter 37)
Because of the bloody prophecy, of course.
Let’s go back to what happened just after Voldemort’s Killing Curse rebounded. Snape had told Dumbledore that Voldemort intended to let Lily live. This information seemed innocuous enough at the time, but once Voldemort was gone it was priceless to Dumbledore, because it meant he knew how Harry had survived: Lily’s sacrifice. It must have been. An Avada Kedavra is unblockable; what else is even possible? So Dumbledore proceeded to cast a spell that protected Harry from Voldemort as long as he lived with Lily’s blood relatives. Harry is now completely protected from Voldemort for sixteen years.
And Voldemort doesn’t know it.
In other words, a Harry-Voldemort confrontation is the best possible scenario. After all, one of them is going to end up killing the other someday, so why not give Harry a go while it can only work in one direction! Dumbledore isn’t completely sure what’s keeping Voldemort alive – he doesn’t start to suspect multiple Horcruxes until he sees the diary a year later, remember – but it’s at least worth a shot. Remember, Harry has “power the Dark Lord knows not.” Worst case scenario, they both live, and Harry has some valuable Voldemort-battling experience under his belt. Best case scenario, Voldemort is gone. Forever.
Oh yes, and thanks to Dumbledore’s ingenious spellwork, neither Quirrell nor Voldemort will ever be able to get the Philosopher’s Stone out of the Mirrror of Erised.
Knowing all this, how could Dumbledore not give it a try?
“Secrets and lies, that’s how we grew up, and Albus… he was a natural.” – Aberforth Dumbledore (Deathly Hallows, chapter 28)
So Dumbledore devises a plan. His first goal is just to get Harry thinking about the fact that there’s a valuable object in the third-floor corridor and someone is trying to steal it, just to get the boy paying attention. So Dumbledore has Hagrid retrieve the Stone from Gringotts while Harry is with him, puts on a big show about the forbidden third-floor corridor, and then sets about ensuring Harry makes the connection. Perhaps he even does so by visiting Hagrid just before Harry does, and leaving the Daily Prophet article on the table. Granted this is far from fail-proof, but if Harry doesn’t see it Dumbledore can always try other methods later on. Anyway, regardless of how the article got there, Dumbledore learns from Hagrid that Harry has seen the article, and is content to let that stew in Harry’s brain for a few months.
Fast forward to Christmas. With most of the school out of the way (and possibly Quirrell away for the holiday as well!), Dumbledore takes out the Mirror of Erised, gives Harry the Invisibility Cloak, and steers him to the Mirror. Perhaps he enlists Snape’s help to get him there (which would explain his patrolling the corridors), perhaps he magically lures Harry to the room, perhaps he simply follows Harry and figures out a way to put the Mirror in front of him. It doesn’t really matter. The idea is just what Dumbledore cryptically tells Harry: “If you ever do run across it, you will now be prepared.” He knows Harry will run across it. He’s planning for it to happen. And now, he knows that when he does, Harry won’t be distracted. Master plan, part two, is complete.
All that is left, then, is for Dumbledore to wait until Quirrell is getting close, and then be sure Harry knows the significance of the Philosopher’s Stone (remember, he doesn’t know that Harry has the Nicholas Flamel clue). Harry then presents Dumbledore with a golden opportunity – he lands himself in detention. So Dumbledore sends Harry into the Forest, after the unicorn, and enlists Firenze to explain it to the boy.
Oh yes. And Dumbledore also puts his stamp on the “protective spells” around the Stone. Perhaps he even tailors them specifically to Harry, Ron, and Hermione (I mean seriously, broom-flying, chess, and logic?). But either way, he makes sure the kids can get through. He also ensures the potion bottles at the end refill themselves – so Quirrell and Harry can both go through the flames – but there’s only enough potion for one person at a time. After all, Harry’s friends don’t have the blood protection he does, and Dumbledore knows Harry will be the one to go on and send them back for help.
All in all, the stage is set for a showdown between Harry and Voldemort. Dumbledore’s plan has worked, from start to finish.
Until the last minute, when it very nearly all falls apart.
“Harry, have you any idea how few wizards could have seen what you saw in that mirror?” – Albus Dumbledore (Half-Blood Prince, chapter 23)
The flaw in Dumbledore’s plan, of course, isn’t that he underestimates Voldemort. It’s that he underestimates Harry. Because when Harry looks in the Mirror of Erised, he no longer sees his family. He sees – and thereby receives – the Philosopher’s Stone.
And this presents a big problem. The Stone is no longer safe. And neither is Harry. Harry would be fine if Voldemort tried to attack him, but now Voldemort’s instead trying to take something from him. And as Dumbledore will later tell Harry, it’s not Voldemort that “nearly kills” him. It’s “the effort involved” in keeping him off the Stone.
In the end, Dumbledore and Harry were both fortunate that Dumbledore arrived when he did. In fact, even though the plan didn’t keep Harry as safe as Dumbledore expected, it actually had a rather fortunate byproduct. Dumbledore now knows, beyond doubt, that Harry’s heart is both pure and good. In fact he must be rather flabbergasted – I mean seriously, the deepest desire of this kid’s heart, at age eleven, is to keep Voldemort from getting the Stone? In other words, he possesses the one weapon that Voldemort doesn’t have, and the one that Dumbledore knows is the only way to destroy him. Love. The “power the Dark Lord knows not.”
Maybe this whole thing will turn out alright after all.