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In Harry Potter And The Order of The Phoenix, Voldemort attempts to kill Harry in the Ministry after Sirius's death. Dumbledore arrives just in time to save Harry, shielding him with the wizard's statue.

Why did he defend Harry there? He knew of him being a Horcrux after the attack on Arthur Weasley(on examining one of his instruments), and presumably knew he had to die at Riddle's hands.

Why did he postpone the inevitable?

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    Because he’s not evil? Something mumbled about Nietzsche and the abyss. – Fivesideddice Jun 5 at 10:46
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So we're assuming a completely, 100% objective-focused Dumbledore, rather than one that cares for Harry, and maybe holds out hope for another way, or at least wants to preserve him as long as possible. Fine. We can do that.

If he wants, Dumbledore can arrange for Voldemort to find and kill Harry at any time. That part is easy, and no one (not even Voldemort) would ever know of Dumbledore's involvement. What's not so easy is finding the other horcruxes, or killing the part of Voldemort that remained in his body.

In allowing Harry to be killed earlier, Dumbledore loses a capable and motivated ally in hunting horcruxes, one who has already demonstrated a knack for dealing directly with Voldemort. He also loses a foil and distraction for Voldemort; time and energy Voldemort spends hunting Harry are resources he is not spending doing other things Dumbledore would need to counter.

In short, even aside from all the other feelings and motivations Dumbledore may have here, letting Harry die at this point is a poor strategic choice.

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It's hard to give a definitive reason for a fictional character's motivations when they aren't explicitly described anywhere, but there are any number of reasons events may have unfolded as they did.

  1. Dumbledore wasn't Voldemort-- he wasn't cool with murdering innocent people or allowing innocent people to die through inaction (certainly not in this phase of his life). He also showed a strong commitment to his students' safety and wellbeing, even in the case of a student that he knew for a fact was actively trying to murder him. Killing someone because it would be convenient or helpful is not a Professor Dumbledore move.

  2. It's not clear how much information Dumbledore had on the Horcruxes at that point. It's easy for a reader to look back at the novels and determine that Harry was 100% fated to die at some point in the struggle against Voldemort, but that's not a great guide an in-universe character's knowledge and motivations.

  3. Dumbledore was actively resisting Voldemort in every way he could manage at the time, and in particular wanted Voldemort's return to become public knowledge. It's not impossible that he viewed Voldemort's attack as an opportunity to injure, weaken, or otherwise frustrate Voldemort's efforts. At a minimum his approach was enough to force Ministry officials to accept that Voldemort was back, but it's also reasonable to think that if Voldemort clearly wanted something to happen, Dumbledore didn't want it to happen.

  4. Voldemort was clever and dangerous, and one of the few things Dumbledore could be pretty sure he would do was hunt Harry. With Harry dead, Voldemort would become less predictable but no less dangerous.

  5. Destroying all of the Horcruxes was important to defeating Voldemort but destroying any one was not-- that was the very reason Voldemort created so many of them. His being one seventh less immortal isn't an obviously huge setback for him, and indeed he did not seem to even notice that some of the Horcruxes were destroyed.

  6. The difficulty around the Horcruxes was mostly in finding and gaining possession of them, because Voldemort had hidden them away and protected them. Harry himself, on the other hand, was generally pretty easy to find over the course of the novels. Even if Dumbledore felt that Harry would need to die, there wasn't any reason that this particular opportunity for him to do so was unique or rare.

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    7. Harry's willing sacrifice was an important part of his surviving the horcrux extraction. If he had died in book five (especially right after Siruis died) he would have almost certainly have stayed dead. – Arcanist Lupus Jun 4 at 4:08
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    @ArcanistLupus Im not so sure about that. I dont think the sacrifice works for himself. It enabled him to protect everyone else he cared about from Voldemort but it doesnt protect themselves otherwise why did Lily die ? If he had died at the Ministry he most likely could have chosen to come back as he did in the forest but becuase he didnt sacrifice himself willingly there no one else would have protection from Voldemort. The thing that protected himself from Voldemorts spells at the end was the fact he was the owner of the Elder Wand. – GamerGypps Jun 4 at 10:49
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    @GamerGypps Is it mentioned somewhere that it was Elder Wand that saved him? I'd expect that Voldermort could cast Killing Curse wandless and asleep. How would weaker wand prevent him from successfully casting it? Could wand itself alter the curse (not weaken, alter specifically to target the horcrux)? – Yksisarvinen Jun 4 at 13:53
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    We don't know how much Dumbledore knew about Voldemort's horrocruxes by then, but we know for sure he knew about the prophecy Voldemort was trying to hear during all that book: "The only one with capable to defeat the Dark Lord will be born..." So Dumbledore always knew Harry was the only one who could defeat Voldemort. – Rekesoft Jun 4 at 13:53
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    @Yksisarvinen This comes straight from the book 'Harry saw Voldemort's green jet meet his own spell, saw the Elder Wand fly high, dark against the sunrise, spinning across the enchanted ceiling like the head of Nagini, spinning through the air toward the master it would not kill, who had come to take full possession of it at last.' – GamerGypps Jun 4 at 13:57
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There were still more than one Horcrux left. They all needed to be destroyed before Voldemort could be killed.

Potter "So if all of his Horcruxes are destroyed, Voldemort could be killed?

Dumbledore "Yes, I think so. Without his Horcruxes, Voldemort will be a mortal man with a maimed and diminished soul." from HP and the Half-Blood Prince

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    There was still a Horcrux left in Deathly Hallows when Harry sacrificed himself; it doesn't ruin the plan. Dumbledore just had to make sure the others would be destroyed. And in this case, he could easily have done that; he knew Harry would survive, and they could have hunted the remaining ones down at their leisure. – Harry Holmes Jun 3 at 17:38
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    @HarryHolmes - Dumbldore didn't know for sure that Harry would surive when it was time for him (Harry) to sacrifice himself as the last horcrux. – NKCampbell Jun 3 at 18:09
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    @HarryHolmes They could have done that, yes. Harry would have had to fake his own death and go incognito until the mission was complete. But, Harry "dying" seems like it would bring some measure of global despair. – Aww_Geez Jun 3 at 18:48
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    Wasn't part of the reason Harry survived that he was attacked with a wand he was master of? – Erbureth says Reinstate Monica Jun 4 at 9:02
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    I think Harry survive because all Horcrux where gone and he had the resurrection stone. – Oni Jun 4 at 13:24
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It was a part of Dumbledore's plan to have Harry hunt Horcruxes in order to spare others

In addition to the many reasons that Dumbledore values life and does not just let people die, a part of Dumbledore's plan was to have Harry hunt down the Horcruxes so that others did not have to risk their lives. He knew that Harry had to die but sending him to hunt Horcruxes saved others.

He had never questioned his own assumption that Dumbledore wanted him alive. Now he saw that his life span had always been determined by how long it took to eliminate all the Horcruxes. Dumbledore had passed the job of destroying them to him, and obediently he had continued to chip away at the bonds tying not only Voldemort, but himself, to life! How neat, how elegant, not to waste any more lives, but to give the dangerous task to the boy who had already been marked for slaughter, and whose death would not be a calamity, but another blow against Voldemort. - The Forest Again, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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  • Interesting theory, but was Dumbledore aware of the horcruxes in book 5? He first became aware that Voldemort made 7 horcruxes in book 6, so he could not have formulated a plan to destroy them a year earlier. – RichS Jun 4 at 16:12
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    @RichS In the book he knew of the Horcruxes when Harry brought him the Diary. He didn't know how many until Slughorn's memory. He knew that Harry had to die (and could possibly be saved) at the end of the Goblet of Fire where, when Harry told him that Voldemort took his blood, Dumbledore had a fleeting look of triumph. – Bishop Jun 4 at 17:52
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Harry need to be the owner of the three deathly Hallows (before someone insist: not the possessor, he need not to have the three things with him, they only need to belong to Harry) so he could withstand the death himself.

Usage: To become the Master of Death, by posessing the Cloak, Stone and Wand

Source

By inherit the cape of his father, the stone of Dumbledore and win the wand by defeating Malfoy he owns all three. And this is not given at the fight when Sirius died.

Dumbledore has the hope, that Harry may come back from the death (without the part of Voldemorts soul) instead to die with it.

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    The Hallows had nothing to do with his survival (well, the wand maybe, because it was the weapon used to kill him). It was all about his mother's blood and his and her willing sacrifices. – Arcanist Lupus Jun 3 at 19:10
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    The Hallows had almost nothing to do with the whole book, except being mentioned in the title. – RalfFriedl Jun 4 at 6:38
  • This is not the whole answer to the question but is a good part of it. It's clear that Dumbledore wanted Harry to mature and (at least begin to) discover answers to some critical questions regarding his life and how to live it. And that's what the Quest was about, and why Dumbledore set him on it (via subtle clues in his gift to Hermione). – davidbak Jun 4 at 18:15
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    I seem to remember there wasn't any actual evidence in the books that the Hallows had any special power over death, and Dumbledore in particular seemed to think that was just an old story with no truth to it. Do you have a reason to say otherwise? – David Z Jun 4 at 22:55
  • Would you dismiss the chance only because you do not believe in it? – Allerleirauh Jun 5 at 7:14
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Good question! Several answer are really good but here are 3 (again, possible) theories I have:-

  1. Dumbledore understood the power of sacrifice by love (in fact, he was the one who told Harry Potter about it in The Philosophers Stone). He knew that allowing Voldemort to kill Harry wouldn’t invoke this power but if Harry himself was willing to be killed, he would most definitely protect everybody he loved safeguarding them from being killed by Voldemort just as his mother protected him. This was probably the reason he wanted Snape to explain it to Harry.

  2. The hunt for the Horcruxes was difficult since they could be detected only by traces of dark magic. But Dumbledore has an advantage in the hunt- Harry himself. Remember: “There’s a reason Harry can speak to snakes. There’s a reason he can look into the mind of Lord Voldemort. A part of Lord Voldemort lives inside him”. This was critical because after hunting the first few Horcruxes, Voldemort would try to safeguard the rest which would be a mistake since Harry could look into his mind and figure out which ones they are and whether he got the right one. There are three instances which come to mind to validate this:

    • In Gringotts, after getting the cup, Voldemort killed everybody after he found out Harry stole it. This helped confirm that Harry indeed got the right Horcrux.

    • Voldemort then proceeded to protect Nagini, this informed Harry that Nagini was Voldemort’s Horcrux.

    • Voldemort was furious when he saw that the locket was stolen which meant that it was indeed Voldemort’s Horcrux.

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