When I think about the whole plan Draco tried to fulfill throughout The Half-Blood Prince it seems unnecessarily complicated. He got the task to kill Dumbledore, but instead of concentrating on this task he invents another one - bring Death Eaters to the castle. It almost cost him his life (as Voldemort started to threaten him when it took too long) and definitely cost most of his nerves. It would be understandable if the Death Eaters would somehow ensure Draco's overpowering Dumbledore, but as we see at the end - he didn't really expect them to interfere when he cornered Dumbledore. According to his plan it seems that killing Dumbledore and getting DEs inside the castle are two separate tasks that are not really connected.

Imagine that his plan would work completely - than we have the sequence of events:

  • let DEs inside the castle making a big mess and starting a fight with security
  • cast the Dark Mark to lure Dumbledore
  • corner Dumbledore while DEs are waking up the whole castle
  • kill Dumbledore
  • flee with all the security alerted

Now imagine he didn't invite Death Eaters. We basically have the same line of events, only much more simple:

  • find Dumbledore alone
  • corner Dumbledore and kill him
  • flee quietly into the night

See? The whole business about killing Dumbledore goes the same way, the DEs don't have much to do with it. I would think he wanted a plan that ensures he would not be accused of Dumbledore's death - to stay at the school. But at the end he flees with all the DEs, so it apparently wasn't the point.

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    If you had been ordered to kill a heavily trained spy whilst in school would you go alone or find some more experienced people to go with you as backup? – TheLethalCarrot Oct 15 at 12:06
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    @TheLethalCarrot Yes, but at the end he didn't rely on them, did he? He went to look for Dumbledore alone, as he could do any other time. He could not possibly know Dumbledore was weakened by the cave potion, so he should have been expected to meet the full powered Dumbledore. If Draco would lose to him, how would his backup help? They all came much, much later. If he relied on their help, he would not go for Dumbledore by himself. – Shana Tar Oct 15 at 12:18
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    @TheLethalCarrot Dumbledore was a heavily trained spy? TIL :-P – Rand al'Thor Oct 15 at 12:30
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    A plan in Harry Potter that seems needlessly complicated? That's unpossible. – Valorum Oct 15 at 12:58
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    @ShanaTar - What he did at the end doesn't change what he did leading up to that point. Just because he confronted Dumbledore on his own in the end doesn't change the fact that he may not have been prepared to do that initially. – RDFozz Oct 15 at 17:38
up vote 14 down vote accepted

@Shana Tar, in your question you mention in the possibly simple plan- corner Dumbledore and kill him. There is no way Malfoy would have been able to do that without backup. That is why Draco needed a plan at all, else anyone could have done it. @Rand al'Thor's answer makes this point as well, but I have a different take on the events, so giving my two cents here-

Draco's attempt to use the necklace/poison were done when he was worried that his original plan wouldn't work. They were "desperate" attempts. So it is very clear that his main plan was to bring DEs into Hogwarts.

Draco had planned to introduce DEs into Hogwarts to attack Dumbledore in a group. Draco did not plan to attack Dumbledore alone. He knew he would have no chance in a duel. His only chance was attacking in a group. He did not expect that he would be able to defeat Dumbledore even if he found him alone/was able to surprise him.

Draco only went to the tower alone because he was forced to. Why?

  • Because Malfoy did not take into account the facts that teachers and members of the Order were patrolling the school at night (so atleast 5-10 adults with atleast a little fighting/dueling experience). Also, Malfoy probably expected to smuggle the DEs to the tower from the Room of Requirement without any patrols knowing about it. Note that he had to use his stock of Peruvian Darkness Powder 2 times( because of Trelawney and Ron) which he must have had to escape any large gathering of wizards. He probably expected being able to quickly neutralize any single patrol without being noticed.
  • The DA notified the patrols immediately, so they were able to prevent the DE reaching the tower without fighting. One DE went up and conjured the mark for Dumbledore to see from Hogsmeade, which meant Dumbledore was going to return soon, and they couldn't afford him joining up with the patrol, else it was over, so Malfoy HAD TO try and ambush Dumbledore. They expected the Patrol would not attack Malfoy but would attack any unknown person as being a potential DE. So he was the only one who could make a quick getaway from the fighting.
  • If there had been no patrols, Dumbledore would have been only person to see the Dark Mark. And any resistance he marshalled, mostly Mcgonagall and Snape, could have been dealt with by the DEs. They would have expected Snape to join them somehow as long as he was not seen by Mcgonagall/Dumbledore.

I think Malfoy might have taken the Patrols into account, but he had not counted on the DA alerting them to DEs presence. Or that he would have to use up his supply of the Instant Darkness powder to avoid detection by Trelawney and to escape the DA without causing a commotion.

  • Previous answers make some valid points regarding Malfoy needing (im)moral support while carrying out this big a task. I believe if the fake Mad-eye(Crouch Jr) had just kept up his act for a little while, he could have been entrusted with this job with a realistic hope of completing it, especially the 'corner Dumbledore and Kill him' part. – Shanty Oct 16 at 7:20
  • Though the previous answers got me think more deep into the problem, I guess this answer is the closest to the true explanation. I do not believe Draco overthought the whole thing just because his subconsciousness told him about his inner issues. Though it surely could have some influence, I still feel like DEs must have been included in the initial plan to justify all his actions. Though you did not provide any quotes, I reread the chapter and it looks like indeed the plan was to attack in a group, but the fact that Phoenix security were alerted prevented it from going all that smoothly. – Shana Tar Oct 16 at 9:28

He did try to carry out the plan all by himself.

Remember all those attempts that failed? The necklace that almost killed Katie Bell, the poison that almost killed Ron, ... That was Draco trying - perhaps rather half-heartedly, as Dumbledore himself surmised - to carry out the assassination. No Death Eaters would have been required if either the necklace or the poison had successfully reached Dumbledore.

"Oh yes, I do," said Dumbledore mildly. "You almost killed Katie Bell and Ronald Weasley. You have been trying, with increasing desperation, to kill me all year. Forgive me, Draco, but they have been feeble attempts ... So feeble, to be honest, that I wonder whether your heart has been really in it."

He was scared and wanted backup.

Assassinating Dumbledore is a big ask, regardless of the fact that in theory he could do the deed quietly in a corner. Dark Mark or no Dark Mark, Draco is just a teenager, and Dumbledore is one of the greatest wizards of the age. If it came down to a straight fight between them, Draco would have no chance. He needs to either catch Dumbledore by surprise or be one of a larger group all attacking at once. (In the end, he was lucky beyond his wildest dreams to find Dumbledore greatly weakened and apparently alone.) You make it sound as though "corner Dumbledore and kill him" is simply one of an A-B-C sequence of things to tick off a to-do list, but in reality that's one of the toughest tasks any Death Eater has been given.

"Draco, Draco, you are not a killer."

"How do you know?" said Malfoy at once.

He seemed to realise how childish the words had sounded; Harry saw him flush in the Mark’s greenish light.

[...]

"I see," said Dumbledore kindly, when Malfoy neither moved nor spoke. "You are afraid to act until they join you."

In addition to the difficulty of the task, there's Draco's own nerve to be taken into account. Does he really have it in him to murder his headmaster in cold blood? Death Eater backup would help to "screw his courage to the sticking point" and ensure that he actually carries out the task. We see how his nerve fails when he's talking to Dumbledore alone but he seems closer to actually doing it when he has the others breathing down his neck. Maybe he didn't fully trust himself not to turn tail and flee without companions who were more ruthless and vicious than he.

"My options!" said Malfoy loudly. "I’m standing here with a wand – I’m about to kill you –"

"My dear boy, let us have no more pretence about that. If you were going to kill me, you would have done it when you first Disarmed me, you would not have stopped for this pleasant chat about ways and means."

As it turns out, even when he does have the other Death Eaters egging him on, he's hardly able to perform the deed even before Snape shows up to do it for him:

Now, Draco, quickly!' said the brutal-faced man angrily.

But Malfoy’s hand was shaking so badly that he could barely aim.

[...]

"We’ve got a problem, Snape," said the lumpy Amycus, whose eyes and wand were fixed alike upon Dumbledore, "the boy doesn’t seem able –"

All quotes from HP and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 28.

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    I believe the book says that those feeble attempts were made when Draco was desperate that he would not be able to do the initial plan. The main plan still included DEs. – Shana Tar Oct 15 at 12:22
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    I agree that corner and kill Dumbledore is a very weak plan and one would expect something more is needed to do the task. But at the end it is exactly what Draco did! He went without any support to try and overpower Dumbledore by himself - and apparently it was according to his plan, leaving DEs behind. – Shana Tar Oct 15 at 12:26
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    @Shana And he found himself unable to actually do it, even when he found Dumbledore weaker and more helpless than he could ever have dared to hope. – Rand al'Thor Oct 15 at 12:29
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    @ShanaTar Maybe, like his aunt, he didn't trust Snape to really be on Voldemort's side? Maybe he was simply stressed out and confused, partly wanting the glory for himself and partly afraid that he'd be too scared to go through with it. – Rand al'Thor Oct 15 at 12:43
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    @ShanaTar you are ignoring the effect of his subconscious. Sure, he never said to himself that he would be unable to do it. Instead, he fled into doing this exhausting mechanical work (the wizard equivalent of it), repairing the Cabinet. He never asked himself, “why am I doing this instead of marching straight into his office and killing him directly?”. We know the answer. He could have known it if he ever asked himself that question. Instead, he found out later, when there was no further opportunity to delay it. – Holger Oct 15 at 16:03

Dumbledore answers this in the final book, in Snape's memory:

All the same, try. I am concerned less for myself than for accidental victims of whatever schemes might occur to the boy.

In short, Draco was tasked with killing Dumbledore, something that he hoped would reinstate his and his family's status with Voldemort, but had no desire to actually go through with. He was trying any plan that came to his mind through out the year, half-heartedly hoping one of them would work. But at the end, he neither had the desire nor the fortitude to actually kill Dumbledore, as Dumbledore himself points out in the half blood prince:

'My dear boy, let us have no more pretence about that. If you were going to kill me, you would have done it when you first Disarmed me, you would not have stopped for this pleasant chat about ways and means.'

So him calling the DE into the school was just another desperate attempts, throwing anything he can think of on the wall to see what sticks. I doubt Draco himself had thought about what would actually happen once his backup reached the school.

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    Calling the DEs into the school was not just another desperate attempt. Unlike other attempts, it was the initial fully planned idea of fulfilling the task. We see Draco started to work on it even before the beginning of the school year - when he goes to Borgin and Burkes. And again, he seems to be very proud of the task and his plan at the beginning when he boasts in front of other slytherins. His attitude changed later, but the plan was composed while he was still pretty excited about the task - did he even then know he would never get the nerve to do it? I doubt that. – Shana Tar Oct 15 at 12:45

This answer is fairly speculative, but it occurred to me that even more absurd than Malfoy's various attempts to kill Dumbledore was Voldemort asking him to do it in the first place. Why ask someone so young to do something that Voldemort couldn't even accomplish himself?

Surely any Death Eater could have Imperiused a student to deliver a cursed necklace or sent a poisoned wine to Dumbledore, they wouldn't even need access to the school to do that. If it was that easy, someone would have tried it in the previous 2 years that Voldemort had been back.

Also to consider is the fact that Malfoy was in Borgin and Burkes at the beginning of the year. Clearly the vanishing cabinet was part of the plan all along, as Malfoy was the only person who could fulfill that task; he was a student so he had the freedom to roam around Hogwarts, and was also able to be blackmailed by Voldemort because of his father's imprisonment.

So it seems like the reasoning is the wrong way round: Draco was trying to kill Dumbledore so that he wouldn't have to fix the cabinets and let the Death Eaters into the castle. Whether it was because he felt he didn't have the ability or because he was afraid of the consequences is unclear, but the signs would point to the fact that Voldemort's plan for Malfoy was always to allow the Death Eaters into the castle so they could help him with the assassination.

As for how these things are connected, it was established in the first book that Hogwarts was considered to be the safest place, which was why the Philosopher's Stone was kept there. Voldemort's plan was to not only kill Dumbledore, but to make a show of it by allowing Death Eaters to infiltrate the castle. Once they do that, everyone would finally understand that even Hogwarts is no longer safe.

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    "Why ask someone so young to do something that Voldemort couldn't even accomplish himself?" - As a punishment for Draco's father, who had severely disappointed Voldemort. Probably Voldemort never really expected him to succeed. – Rand al'Thor Oct 15 at 14:38
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    I do not think Voldemort ever knew about the details of the plan, so he couldn't expect DEs to enter the school. He just ordered Draco to kill Dumbledore without even expecting him to succeed, apparently. Here is where it's discussed: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/50790/… – Shana Tar Oct 15 at 14:43
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    @ShanaTar I agree that Voldemort may not have known about all of the details, but if Malfoy needed a bunch of Death Eaters to be on standby for when he needed them to attack Hogwarts (Bellatrix amongst them), it's unlikely Voldemort wouldn't at least know that the plan involved Malfoy somehow allowing them access to the castle. – Mike.C.Ford Oct 15 at 14:50
  • Perhaps the initial order was meant only as a punishment, but then Draco and Lucius came up with a plan that had a (slim) chance of working and Voldemort decided it was worth risking a few DEs on. – zwol Oct 16 at 17:51

Talking about "Draco's" plan, we forget about Snape.

In the beginning of Half-Blood Prince, we see Snape giving an Unbreakable Oath to assist Draco with the task of killing Dumbledore.

As it is revealed in Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore was aware of the plan from the very beginning. He knew he was going to die soon (due to the cursed ring with a horcrux).

All quotes are taken from Book 7, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows - The Prince's Tale

Dumbledore raised his blackened, useless hand, and examined it with the expression of one being shown an interesting curio.

“You have done very well, Severus. How long do you think I have?”

Dumbledore’s tone was conversational; he might have been asking for a weather forecast.

Snape hesitated, and then said, “I cannot tell. Maybe a year. There is no halting such a spell forever. It will spread eventually, it is the sort of curse that strengthens over time.”

So he arranges with Snape that he manipulates Draco and orchestrates Dumbledore's murder to their mutual advantage.

“I refer to the plan Lord Voldemort is revolving around me. His plan to have the poor Malfoy boy murder me.”

...

Scowling, Snape said, “The Dark Lord does not expect Draco to succeed. This is merely punishment for Lucius’s recent failures. Slow torture for Draco’s parents, while they watch him fail and pay the price.”

“In short, the boy has had a death sentence pronounced upon him as surely as I have,” said Dumbledore.

“Now, I should have thought the natural successor to the job, once Draco fails, is yourself?”

There was a short pause.

“That, I think, is the Dark Lord’s plan.”

In the end, Snape gains Voldemort's trust (at the cost of his own reputation in the Order and everyone else standing against the Death Eaters). Snape is then able to have a greater deal in manipulating events in DH and assisting the trio.

“Lord Voldemort foresees a moment in the near future when he will not need a spy at Hogwarts?”

“He believes the school will soon be in his grasp, yes.” “And if it does fall into his grasp,” said Dumbledore, almost, it seemed, as an aside, “I have your word that you will do all in your power to protect the students of Hogwarts?” Snape gave a stiff nod.

The plan is further set out in this chapter. It appears to be quite detailed. So Snape is the person who arranges everything behind Draco's back, so that everyone (including even the readers) believes what they see in the end of the Half-Blood Price.

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    The plan to smuggle in Death Eaters was Malfoy's, not Snape's. As we see from their conversation the night of Slughorn's party: I've got a plan and it's going to work, it's just taking a bit longer than I thought it would!" "What is your plan?" "It's none of your business!" – Alex Oct 16 at 22:04
  • The part of it to use the Vanishing Cabinet was indeed, Draco's idea. But how did Draco know that Dumbledore will appear in his study, weak and exhausted, easy to subdue (in fact, fatally poisoned). I doubt that he would be able to disarm Dumbledore, was he in full power and not willing to be disarmed. Snape was manipulating Draco, allow him to think that the plan was his and his alone. But that was only partially true. – TimSparrow Oct 17 at 14:24
  • @TimSparrow I really don't think this is the case. The book strongly implies that neither Snape, nor Dumbledore (who would learn from Snape) knew about Draco's plan. They only knew that Draco got the task to kill Dumbledore and Snape should keep an eye on Draco and when the time comes somehow should do it instead of the boy. Snape wasn't even out of his room when all the events started - he was informed later by Flitwick, he didn't know what's going to happen and when. – Shana Tar Oct 17 at 17:14
  • @ShanaTar I think that although Draco made the plan, Snape was somehow in control all the time. Precise "when" did not really matter - they knew enough to be prepared, the scene in Snape's memory shows. Even Harry and the DA knew Draco was up to something, so much of a surprise. There were no casualties (partially due to Felix Felicis), except Dumbledore who intended to be killed. Dumbledore admits that he was expecting the attack, he was only surprised to learn how Draco achieved this, but not the attack itself. – TimSparrow Oct 17 at 17:45
  • @TimSparrow He didn't. All he knew was that Dumbledore was that Dumbledore was going out for a drink that night: "Now, about tonight," dumbledore went on, "I am a little puzzled about how it happened.... You knew that I had left the school? But of course," he answered his own question, "Rosmerta saw me leaving, she tipped you off using your ingenious coins, I'm sure." "That's right," said Malfoy. "But she said you were just going for a drink, you'd be back...." – Alex Oct 17 at 17:45

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