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One of the most ambiguous characters to exist within the world created by J.K. Rowling is the former headmaster of Hogwarts himself, Albus Dumbledore. Once revered by all, he has been pulled from the pedestal which the readers and Harry himself placed him upon, and even today, it’s still a widely debated topic as to just how good a man Dumbledore was. This debate is one that captured my interest not whilst reading the books but after reading a remarkable character analysis by Irvin Khatyman in his book The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, published in 2018. In his book, Irvin explores Dumbledore’s puppeteer nature across the span of the seven Harry Potter books, highlighting the many scenarios that Dumbledore could have orchestrated. It was during my time reading this book that I pondered upon yet another unanswered question I have relating to Dumbledore’s character: Was Dumbledore as responsible for the death of the Potters as Voldemort?
My answer: Yes.
It is during the unveiling of Dumbledore’s history in Rowling’s seventh book that we find out more than we bargained for. One of those revelations I found particularly surprising was how even he could be tempted by power. For Dumbledore, power came in the form of the Deathly Hallows, and he is forthcoming to Harry about his obsession during their interaction in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:
And at the heart of our schemes, the Deathly Hallows! How they fascinated [Grindelwald], how they fascinated both of us!” (DH 585).
Here, we learn that not even Dumbledore is immune to temptation, and his strive “for the greater good” is of great importance when considering if he could be responsible for the Potters’ death on that dreaded Halloween night…
Until then, the Potters remained successfully hidden, and on July 31, 1980, Harry Potter was born, already in danger as a result of a prophecy made by Sybill Trelawney.
What’s interesting about the prophecy is what we know from the books: Snape overheard the prophecy and relayed it back to Voldemort, and the prophecy could also have meant Neville, but Voldemort chose Harry. First, I find it hard to believe that Dumbledore of all people didn’t realize that there was someone eavesdropping, so I have to question that. Additionally, while Dumbledore can’t be faulted for offering to make himself Secret Keeper for the Potters, the fact that he wasn’t more persistent bothers me – given that he’s the only one whom Voldemort was ever afraid of. As for the choice which Voldemort made in picking Harry, I believe that could have been a result of the Potters being hidden and their protections having been cast by Dumbledore himself. After all, who better for Voldemort to suspect to be the supposed Chosen One than the boy who is best protected?
Bearing that in mind, we make a return to Dumbledore’s obsession with the Deathly Hallows, with particular focus on Dumbledore’s thoughts on the Invisibility Cloak:
Both of us could conceal ourselves well enough without the Cloak, the true magic of which, of course, is that it can be used to protect and shield others as well as its owner” (DH 585).
Why then would Dumbledore choose a time such as this to borrow the Cloak from James merely for the purposes of studying it? Surely with Dumbledore’s ability to plan ahead and his prior knowledge regarding the Cloak and the prophecy, he would prioritize the Potter’s need for such an object? I often wonder if he perhaps knew that Peter Pettigrew would betray the Potters… After all, he seemed to know that Ron Weasley would eventually abandon Harry and Hermione in their hunt for Horcruxes and would also need to find his way back to them with the aid of the Deluminator left by Dumbledore. Given Dumbledore’s ability to know more than he lets on, I think this is plausible. If this were the case and Dumbledore allowed for such a betrayal to play out, I wonder if perhaps he also meant for the Potters to die.
Whilst I debate this theory, a part of me can’t help but wonder if Dumbledore would allow for this to happen. After all, we know from Snape’s memories and his conversation with Dumbledore that the former headmaster was willing to raise Harry “like a pig for slaughter,” and we also know that Dumbledore acting for the Greater Good never truly ended. I believe it is plausible that Dumbledore may have prioritized the Greater Good and the defeat of Voldemort over the lives of James and Lily Potter.