One of the most intriguing ideas in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is that Professor Dumbledore set up events so that Harry would try and stop the theft of the Philosopher’s Stone by Voldemort. Many events in Harry’s first year seem to indicate this: his dealings with Hagrid, being given his father’s Invisibility Cloak (twice), his discovery of the Mirror of Erised, and his detention in the Forbidden Forest. These events lead to the conclusion that Professor Dumbledore wanted to test Harry in first year, that he meant for Harry to go after the Philosopher’s Stone, and that he wanted to see if Harry would one day be able to meet his destiny.
Dumbledore Working Through Hagrid
Four incidents involving Hagrid support the idea that Dumbledore intended for Harry to go after the Philosopher’s Stone. The first is that Hagrid was sent to pick up Harry and the Philosopher’s Stone at the same time (PS5). Why would Dumbledore send Hagrid to retrieve the Philosopher’s Stone when he knew Hagrid would be with Harry, given that the Philosopher’s Stone is such a secret and powerful item? Was it that Dumbledore wanted to test Harry, to see what he would do with the knowledge that there was a secret item hidden at Hogwarts? Dumbledore could have sent Hagrid to do pick up Harry and retrieve the Stone from the Gringotts vault at separate times. If there were some urgency requiring the Stone be retrieved from Gringotts at precisely the time Harry needed to be picked up, Dumbledore could have sent someone else to Gringotts. The best reason for sending Hagrid to do both is so that Harry would know that the item was at Hogwarts.
The second involves Harry’s and Ron’s visit to Hagrid’s cabin during their first week of school. While there Harry happened to see a newspaper clipping reporting that a vault at Gringotts had been broken into (PS8). Harry realized that the break-in happened the same day he was there (on his birthday) and later that the item Hagrid picked up may have been what the thief had been after. It seems strange that this article was just lying around. Unlike the next two incidents where Hagrid tries to cover up what was said, here he says nothing. This little mystery would be just what was needed to get Harry to start working towards figuring out what the object was, what it did, and who was after it.
It is more difficult to determine whether the other two incidents were intentional or accidental. The first is after Harry’s first Quidditch match. Here Hagrid let slip that he lent Fluffy to Dumbledore to guard something and that what Fluffy was guarding was between Dumbledore and Nicolas Flamel (PS11). The second is during school finals where Hagrid told Harry how to get past Fluffy and that he had shared this knowledge with a stranger (PS14). Connected to this is Hagrid’s Christmas present to Harry: a flute (PS12). This is the same flute that Harry later used to get past Fluffy (PS16).
Could it be that Dumbledore asked Hagrid to make these slips? Dumbledore trusts Hagrid enough. In the beginning of the book Dumbledore said he “would trust Hagrid with his life” (PS1). Later books do not portray Hagrid as being as clumsy as he is in this first book. But perhaps Hagrid’s slips were accidents. In response to the above quote by Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall said: “‘I’m not saying his heart isn’t in the right place… but you can’t pretend he’s not careless.’” In the hospital at the end of the book, Hagrid visited Harry and was quite remorseful over his slips (PS17). It would have to be quite the elaborate scheme for Hagrid to purposely make these slips and then show up crying and upset about them. Instead, we can surmise that Dumbledore knew that Hagrid might slip, and used this to his advantage.
These four events involving Hagrid are important incidents that end up helping Harry go after the Philosopher’s Stone. Although Harry could have learned about the Philosopher’s Stone and Nicolas Flamel by overhearing Snape and Quirrell in the Forbidden Forest (PS13), how else would Harry have discovered how to get past Fluffy? However, in the end, Hagrid’s grief over his actions makes it more likely that he was not directly involved in Dumbledore’s plan.
Dumbledore’s Direct Involvement
Two events through which Dumbledore provides to Harry tools by which he can find and acquire the Philosopher’s Stone are two of the most important and are closely related. The first is the gift to Harry of his father’s Invisibility Cloak, to which is attached a note that reads, “‘Use it well’” (PS12). We find out at the end of the book that Dumbledore sent the cloak (PS17). Dumbledore tells Harry that his father “used it mainly for sneaking off” (PS12). Dumbledore’s gift was obviously meant for Harry to sneak around. It was also meant for Harry to use to go after the Stone. Just before Harry goes after the Stone, Dumbledore returns the cloak with a note “Just in case” (PS15). Dumbledore must have meant for Harry to do something that required the cloak.
The cloak enables him not only to go after the Stone, but also to find the Mirror of Erised while using the cloak to learn about Nicolas Flamel. As Harry is trying to escape from Snape and Filch after being heard in the Restricted Section of the Library, there just happens to be “a door … ajar to his left” (PS12). In this room he finds the Mirror of Erised. This appears to be planned by Dumbledore because on Harry’s third visit Dumbledore is waiting for him, and Dumbledore also implies that he was there during Harry’s other two visits (PS12). This is significant not only because Dumbledore tells Harry how the mirror works but because Dumbledore tells Harry two other things. First is that the mirror will be moved and Harry is “not to go looking for it again.” But also Dumbledore tells Harry “If you ever do run across it, you will now be prepared” (PS12). Harry does not directly go looking for the mirror again, but does find it when he goes to protect the Stone, and his knowledge of the mirror allows him to protect the Stone (PS17). These two events are clearly set up by Dumbledore to help Harry protect the Stone.
The next event that raises suspicion is Harry’s detention in the Forbidden Forest (PS15). The question has to be asked: why have a group of first year students serve detention in a place from which they are normally banned for their own protection? Dumbledore must have known that Voldemort was after the Stone and may be near or on the Hogwarts grounds; this is the best explanation why he went to such elaborate lengths to protect it. Was there not danger in sending the students to a place in which Voldemort might be hiding, even given Voldemort’s weakened condition? Or did Dumbledore know that Harry would be protected no matter what, and that it was safe to send him into the forest even if Voldemort might be there? While in the forest Harry runs into a number of centaurs. One of them, Firenze, tells him that it is Voldemort who attacked the unicorns and is after the Stone (PS15). Normally centaurs are not interested in dealing with or helping humans. But as seen in later books Firenze is an exception (OP27). Could Dumbledore have asked Firenze to tell Harry these things while in the forest on detention? It is likely that Dumbledore assigned detention in the Forbidden Forest because he wanted Harry to find out who was after the Philosopher’s Stone. This would help provide motivation for Harry to protect the Stone: to stop the return of the man who killed his parents.
There is an argument, then, that Professor McGonagall set up the detention either on the request of Dumbledore or because she is in on his plan. A hint of McGonagall’s complicity comes earlier in the Philosopher’s Stone. After Harry, Ron, and Hermione discover that Voldemort knows how to get past Fluffy and conclude that Voldemort knows everything he needs to get the Stone, they rush to tell Professor McGonagall and she replies, “I don’t know how you found out about the Stone, but rest assured, no one can possibly steal it, it’s too well protected” (PS16). If McGonagall believes “no one can possibly steal” the Stone because it is “too well protected,” then she also presumably believes not even Harry could acquire it and she is unlikely to be part of Dumbledore’s plan to send Harry after the Stone. But if McGonagall is not in on Dumbledore’s plan to have Harry steal the Stone, then she could not believe there would be any benefit to having Harry possibly run into Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest and there is little reason to believe she would send Harry and other first years on such a dangerous detention. If McGonagall is in on Dumbledore’s plan, however, then assigning Harry detention in the Forbidden Forest makes much more sense. In that case, her warning to Harry that the Stone is too well protected to be stolen may be read as her attempt to alert Harry to the test to come when Harry ultimately seeks out the Stone.
One of the last pieces of evidence for the idea that Dumbledore set up Harry to go after the Philosopher’s Stone comes from Dumbledore himself during his conversation with Harry in the hospital after Harry saved the Stone from Voldemort. When Harry asked about Nicolas Flamel, Dumbledore responded, “Oh, you know about Nicolas? . . . You did do the thing properly didn’t you?” (PS17). What is the thing that Harry did properly? It has to be the event that the book had been leading up to, Harry getting the Philosopher’s Stone (hence the title of the book). Dumbledore seems pleased that Harry has done this right and therefore is pleased that his plan worked.
The final evidence comes from the scene that raises the question being addressed. Harry, Ron and Hermione are in the hospital wing discussing the events. We find out that upon his return to Hogwarts and running into Hermione, Dumbledore says, “Harry’s gone after him, hasn’t he?” This is followed by Ron’s question “D’you think he meant you to do it?” (PS17). Harry’s reply to Ron states explicitly what was has been implied throughout the book:
“I think [Dumbledore] 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.”
The events discussed above show that Dumbledore guided Harry towards going after and protecting the Philosopher’s Stone. Not all of the events that lead to Harry’s protection of the Stone were orchestrated by Dumbledore; there are events that lead to and help Harry going after the Stone, but that don’t appear planned. The most significant of these are Harry’s friendship with Ron and Hermione. Harry’s friends are instrumental in helping Harry go after the Stone. The formation of friendships is clearly out of Dumbledore’s control. Other such events include the Trio discovering Fluffy (PS9) and noticing the wound on Snape’s leg (PS11). While these events helped it is possible that Harry would have been able to go after the Stone without these events having occurred. But the major events, which gave Harry indispensable knowledge that allowed him to go after and protect the Stone, were planned. Dumbledore set events in motion to test Harry, to give him a chance to prove himself: to prepare Harry, to let him face Voldemort, as he will have to many more times to fulfill his prophesied destiny.