Whoa. Yeah, yeah. Hmm. Yes! No! Whoa.

Or, “My weekend with the new Harry Potter book”.

Spoilers abound, so avert your eyes if you want to remain innocent of the plot details.

At the beginning of the book, Rowling appeared to signal that the status quo in Potterland was about to change, which was something of a relief, after the wheel-spinning of the last book. Still, I have to confess that I was still thinking she’d probably back off by the end, that Snape’s situation would once again be returned to mysterious ambiguity, that Voldemort would receive some minor setback, that Hogwart’s would go on as it has. I knew someone was supposed to die, and that the money was on Dumbledore. After the first four chapters or so, I was thinking instead that it would probably be Draco Malfoy.

Fooled me. Rowling really does seem to be building the narrative towards conclusion, and I am very glad for it. I’m still vaguely nervous that she’ll somehow backslide and revert the whole story to the Hogwarts’ norm, or that Dumbledore will just have had a comic-book death from which he can be resurrected (or a Jedi death so that he’ll be a blue glowie advising Harry from beyond the grave). The latter seems particularly possible, given the mysteries about the false Horcrux that Harry and Dumbledore secured. I hope not.

The most likeable thing about the book is that it carries forward Harry’s classically adolescent behavior from the last book but suddenly Harry finally breaks through to a maturity of his own. For the first time, after Dumbledore explains to him how Voldemort has forced the terms of the prophecy to come true, Harry seems to actually be an active protagonist. Up until now, the character has always ridden on the plot’s rollercoaster, a slave to its conveyances. He’s never really done anything, just had things done to him. It’s one of many weaknesses of these books, the previous predictability of the narrative structure and Harry’s passivity (coupled with his author-manipulated thick-headedness or cluelessness) within the plot. But the clouds break here and the sun comes out. Harry knows enough to act and has an independent sense of what he has to, wants to, achieve.

Moreover, assuming that everything about Malfoy and Snape is as it appears in the plot’s climax, Harry also knows that his own judgement of the situation is superior to everyone’s, including Dumbledore’s. The book sets you up for much of its length to think that Dumbledore, Hermione, and Ron are correct in their skepticism about Harry’s suspicions of Malfoy and Snape, and then abruptly reveals that he was perfectly right all along. Harry’s become the Captain Kirk of the plot, with Hermione his Spock and Ron his McCoy.

I was a little surprised at how simple Snape’s actions at the end turned out to be. It really doesn’t matter now what we find out about Snape later: this pretty well seals the character’s fate and status within the story. He’s flipped to being a straightforward antagonist. Which makes all the effort lavished on Snape up to this point a bit odd, as if Rowling changed her mind about him. It’s one of the problems with the books in general. They’re partly driven by the public-school, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, setting, which requires at least one sadistic schoolmaster who hates the protagonist. Fine, that’s Snape. But up to this point, Dumbledore has also been in the Mr. Chips’ role as headmaster, and when there’s a kindly headmaster who has a deep personal connection to the protagonist, the continued employment of the sadist becomes a bit harder to justify unless the sadist has some kind of hold over the kindly headmaster. In the last book, Rowling finally explained why Dumbledore allowed the Dursleys’ torment of Harry to continue so long (and there’s a nice, brief, sharp exchange about that in this one as well) but now Dumbledore’s faith in Snape simply seems a bit weird and his tolerance for Snape’s abusiveness even more so. I assume there’s more to come on this in the next book, but it does feel now as if a good deal of set-up went to waste.

The book ends with the clear sense that the next book will not be set at Hogwart’s. I hope Rowling can carry through on that. It would be really annoying to have Harry constantly getting demerits or whatever because he’s sneaking off to find Horcruxes. I was hoping a bit also that at least some government officials would finally align usefully alongside Harry: the incompetence routine is getting a bit old. Maybe in the next book.

A final thought. At least to me it seems very possible now that a long-held speculation about Voldemort and Harry is true: they’re related by blood. In fact, my guess is that Voldemort is Harry’s uncle. We know very little about Harry’s mother even now, and I suspect that’s by design. Note that we’ve seen nothing of Voldemort’s father’s family: it would be very easy for Lily to turn out to be Voldemort’s half-sister.

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43 Responses to Whoa. Yeah, yeah. Hmm. Yes! No! Whoa.

  1. Great review Tim; as usual, much more succinct and eloquent than my own (“Harry’s become the Captain Kirk of the plot, with Hermione his Spock and Ron his McCoy”–man, that’s perfect!) A few comments:

    “I’m still vaguely nervous that she’ll somehow backslide and revert the whole story to the Hogwarts norm, or that Dumbledore will just have had a comic-book death from which he can be resurrected (or a Jedi death so that he’ll be a blue glowie advising Harry from beyond the grave). The latter seems particularly possible, given the mysteries about the false Horcrux that Harry and Dumbledore secured. I hope not.”

    I hope not also. But I’m less nervous now about Rowling’s sense of her own tale than I was before I read HBP. I was absolutely certain that the series would tank if, finally, after the bloated Book 5, certain issues weren’t addressed; perhaps like you, by the time I was 2/3’s through the book, I was suspecting/fearing they weren’t going to be. But they were; Rowling gave us exactly as big a punch as the narrative has been demanding through the long delay since the end of GOF. Yes, she could still drag Harry back to Hogwarts, have him discover that there is still a secret final message Dumbledore has to share, reveal to him that Snape is actually a super-secret triple-agent (fandom is filled with theories like this)–in other words, continue to treat him like a child…but I don’t think so. I think the whole point of broadcasting Snape’s ultimate commitments so clearly at the beginning of HBP is to prepare us for the realization that we, like so many of her own characters, just didn’t get it. Harry’s “getting it” is the real moral climax of the books–Book 7 is, I suspect, just going to be all-out, straightforward war.

    “It really doesn’t matter now what we find out about Snape later: this pretty well seals the character’s fate and status within the story. He’s flipped to being a straightforward antagonist. Which makes all the effort lavished on Snape up to this point a bit odd, as if Rowling changed her mind about him.”

    True…but isn’t it possible that all the attention being lavished on Snape in the books isn’t something we’ve read into them, by fixating on Harry’s (and others’) struggle with reconciling Snape with Dumbledore’s trust? I mean, really, how much detail have we ever been given on Snape outside of overheard conversations, abrupt (and subjective) encounters, and Dumbledore’s soothing insistences? I don’t have the books here with me, but I think the only chapter in all the books where Snape is actually addressed outside of observation of our heroes is in this volume…and there, Occam’s Razor suggests that Snape’s intentionss are not mysterious at all. So maybe the “ambiguity” of Snape–as opposed to his complicatedness; he clearly has that–is in the way Rowling has told the story, and not in its meat at all.

    “At least to me it seems very possible now that a long-held speculation about Voldemort and Harry is true: they’re related by blood. In fact, my guess is that Voldemort is Harry’s uncle. We know very little about Harry’s mother even now, and I suspect that’s by design. Note that we’ve seen nothing of Voldemort’s father’s family: it would be very easy for Lily to turn out to be Voldemort’s half-sister.”

    But if Voldemort’s father re-married after abandoning Voldemort’s mother, wouldn’t Lilly’s last name have been Riddle. (So far, Rowling has been rather traditional in her depictions of the wizarding world on this point.) Plus, wouldn’t the ages be all wrong? Lilly and James were presumably still in their 20s when they were killed, whereas Voldemort had been around a lot longer by that time.

    My preferred revelation about Lilly? That there was some connection between her and Snape while at Hogwarts. She was very good with potions, after all…

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    Ah, but what if Voldemort’s father already had a child when Voldemort’s mother seduced him with a love potion? For all we know, he was actually married to the unknown woman who is outside with him when they pass by the Gaunt’s cottage. If so, that would explain nicely why Lily’s mother would have reverted to a maiden name. Eh, you’re right, it probably doesn’t work, but…

    You don’t have to have Harry and Voldemort be blood kin for the material on Voldemort’s family background to be important in explaining Voldemort’s motivations, but there was an awful lot of exploration of his bloodline, and tremendous emphasis on Voldemort’s obsession with same. I readily grok that some of that was intended to mislead us into thinking that Voldemort was the Half-Blood Prince, though.

    I do think we’ve been given some glimpses inside Snape’s psyche, enough to at least attempt to make it plausible that he’s on the side of the angels, particularly in explaining his antagonism towards Harry as a side-effect of some legitimate grievances he had with James. The strange part to me is still trying to figure out just why not just Dumbledore but almost the whole of the Order of the Phoenix repeatedly insisted to Harry that Snape could be trusted. I don’t mind that the series emphasizes the fallability of adults, but I’d like it if at least three or four adults around Harry were at least somewhat keen-witted. I suppose Lupus and the Weasleys count.

    Any thoughts on who RAB is? That whole part just confused me…I didn’t even have any theories.

  3. My first instinct is that RAB is going to pulled completely out of Rowling’s hat, fresh for Book 7, since I think (and I hope) the Book 7 is going to be a near-total break away from the Harry and the world we knew. But a lot of fans have been talking about RAB as Regulus Black, Sirius’s brother. Remember Dumbledore told Draco that the Order could hide him, fake his death, etc. Well, supposedly Regulus signed up to be a Death Eater, then tried to flee when he found out what he was in for….perhaps his death had been faked? Possible….but if Regulus has been in hiding all this time, why on earth would he sign his initials to the note?

  4. hektor.bim says:

    To me, Snape’s character doesn’t make sense unless there is more to the story than we have seen. We still don’t know why Dumbledore trusted him, and we still don’t know why Snape turned the first time, unless it was all a complicated double bluff. There also isn’t a clear explanation for why Snape would act now – remember, all the theories about him being an agent of the Dark Lord focus on him taking the Unbreakable Vow at the beginning and that being the point where he betrays Dumbledore and the OotP.

    So it just isn’t that simple to me, and frankly, I don’t see why Harry has to be suddenly right about everything at this point. After all, he’s been wrong about almost everything so far and he still seems to come out ok. In fact, in this very book, if your analysis is correct, he was completely wrong about the Half-Blood Prince. What I want is slightly different from what you want: I want Harry making his own decisions and suffering the consequences without Dubledore to rescue him. That’s what will really make him an adult in Book 7. All that is necessary is for Dumbledore to die, not for Harry to be right about everything.

    Note also, that Dumbledore is _right_ about Draco. Malfoy isn’t going to kill him, and they both know it. He really wants to save Draco, and it almost works, and _may_ still work in time.

    If Snape is really an agent of the Dark Lord, then I want some explanation. His motives are obviously more complicated than others, and they need to be explained. For me, it is far more satisfying for Snape to be the person everyone dislikes and yet be on the side of the angels. It allows ugly and disagreeable people to be on the side of the angels. There is no other comparable character in the books who can fulfill this function.

    As for R.A.B., it may be someone new, or it might be Regulus Black. He’d sign his initials to the note because he wants Voldemort to know who has undone him. After all, he expects to be dead when the note is written.

  5. kieran says:

    Snape is under the unbreakable curse, right? He’s magically compelled to help Draco complete his task, and so he is forced to kill Dumbledore.

  6. wolfangel says:

    No, Snape could have died instead of killing Dumbledore.

  7. Sherman Dorn says:

    As a lay reader of these things, what fascinates me about the series is the shifting (sub)genres. We’ve gone through a fairy tale, a horror/mystery, an adventure, a Victorian novel, a tragedy, and now a Bildungsroman (never mind that the whole series is one), and the last one will be a quest. This isn’t C.S. Lewis-quality, but most of them are Good Reads.

    I also strongly disliked HP5 until my children pointed out that it was a tragedy. It could have been a more tightly-edited tragedy, but Harry really is supposed to be a raging twit in that one, and not just because of hormones.

    Incidentally, aren’t you engaging in fannish speculation about Tom Riddle and Lilly Potter? 😉

  8. Miranda says:

    I agree with Hektor that Snape’s perfidy is not completely obvious. Dumbledore trusted him and Dumbledore has _always_ been right, as opposed to Harry, who has almost always been wrong when assessing Snape’s motives. Also, the way that Snape gets into this situation with the Unbreakable Vow anyway is that he agrees to help Narcissa (a kind of nice thing to do) in the first place. Could this not be what Snape and Dumbledore are arguing about in the middle of the book? That Snape does NOT want to have to kill D? But that D refuses to let Snape die instead? Too much has been invested in Snape to have him simply be bad. Remember what Hermione says about the Prince–she doesn’t think he’s evil, she just doesn’t like his sense of humor.

    I will take your fannish speculation and raise it–I don’t think Lily was V’s half-sister–I think Snape was in love with her. He was at school with her and they were both good at potions. This would also contribute to his hatred of James. This would explain his sudden switch to teh good side at the end of the previous trouble–he was consumed with guilt that his eavesdropping led to Lily being killed. It would also help to explain his perserverance in keeping Harry alive (Book 1, Book 3 when everyone thought Sirius wanted to kill Harry) but also his dislike of Harry. One of the constant lessons of the books is the power that love has over evil–Lily’s love saves Harry (although James’ love cannot somehow save his wife–unsure how that works)–and Dumbledore tells Harry that his ability to love is what will help him defeat V. Don’t forget Slughorn in 6 also explains the power of obsessive love, surely the kind of love that Snape had for Lily.

  9. ogged says:

    I’m with Miranda here. There’s still room for Snape’s actions to have more complicated reasons, and it seems a good bet that Lily Potter will figure in them. What makes me uneasy about this theory is that Snape is transformed after he kills Dumbledore: isn’t there a bit where Harry sees Snape’s face as it’s never appeared before, filled with murderous rage?

  10. Ayjay says:

    The key to Snape’s murder of Dumbledore, it seems to me, is Dumbledore’s “plea,” as Harry calls it: “Severus . . . please.” Harry thinks that Dumbledore is pleading for his life. But is it really possible to imagine Dumbledore doing that, after all he has said (and clearly fervently meant) about death as something not to be feared, as “the next great adventure” for the “well-organised mind”? No: Dumbledore is pleading with Snape to kill him, not to refrain from killing him. In fact, the whole stalling tactic with Draco is Dumbledore’s way of giving Snape time to get there — do you really think, even in his greatly weakened condition, he could not have silently summoned his wand (Accio Wand!) and disarmed Draco? No: Dumbledore’s death is calculated, and by him.

    Consider further: Snape could have killed Dumbledore a hundred times earlier — why did he never even try? Because, for reasons unknown to us, Voldemort was insistent that Draco be the one to do it. Only when Draco failed did Snape do it — and I am sure that Voldemort will not be pleased to hear this. With Dumbledore’s murder by Snape, something has gone terribly wrong with Voldemort’s plans; in a couple of years we’ll find out what.

  11. For any who are still interested in this discussion, and are hung up on the idea that things cannot possibly be as they appear, that Dumbledore must have arranged things with Snape in some particular way…I give you this, from an interview with J.K. herself:

    “I would say that I think it has been demonstrated, particularly in books five and six that immense brainpower does not protect you from emotional mistakes and I think Dumbledore really exemplifies that. In fact, I would tend to think that being very, very intelligent might create some problems and it has done for Dumbledore, because his wisdom has isolated him, and I think you can see that in the books, because where is his equal, where is his confidante, where is his partner? He has none of those things.”

    A comment especially appropriate in regards to the argument that Rowling has done what she has done because she wants Harry to come to the fore–and Harry, unlike Dumbledore, does have confidants and equals.

    (Read the first part of the interview here.

  12. Ayjay says:

    Russell: I’ve seen that interview, and of course there is the confession from Dumbledore (to Harry) at the end of book 5 along the same lines. While he still makes mistakes — apparently major ones — in Book 6 (especially if we count the failure to secure a true Horcrux a mistake), he makes major efforts to end his isolation by drawing Harry further and further into his confidence, and giving Harry greater and greater responsibilities. It is interesting in light of this that when Harry is bringing the injured Dumbledore back to Hogwarts, Dumkbledore says that he is not afraid “because I’m with you” — he explicitly acknowledges his dependence on Harry.

    But I do not see these facts as having a bearing on Snape’s killing of him. Dumbledore’s judgment is increasingly called into question in books 5 and 6, but not his character. Again, does anyone really think that Dumbledore would plead with Snape to spare his life? And if not, then he must be pleading with Snape to do the opposite — to kill him — and it is interesting to speculate on why he might do that.

    One thought: by taking the instant after seeing Draco to immobilize Harry, rather than save himself, Dumbledore re-enacts the sacrifice of Harry’s mother: he loves Harry so much that he dies to save him. (He has already confessed in Book 5 that his love for Harry was what led him into errors of judgment.) Does this mean that he gives Harry yet more protection against the power of Voldemort? Was dying specifically for Harry part of his plan? (I’m not at all sure about this, I’m just speculating. But I still would like for someone to explain to me why Dumbledore does not re-arm himself when facing Draco, or offer me a plausible explanation for the idea that Dumbledore would beg for his life.)

  13. Timothy Burke says:

    Why is it so impossible that Dumbledore would plead with Snape to spare his life? Not because he’s afraid of dying, afraid for himself, but because he wants Snape to do the right thing, to be a better person. (Yes, I know that would result in Snape’s own death, due to the Unbreakable Vow, but if you follow the argument that that’s where Snape actually goes bad once and for all, then his only redemption would lie in suffering the consequences of his own bad choices and dying to save Dumbledore.)

  14. Ayjay says:

    Tim — and thanks for indulging me! — it seems to me that there are far greater matters at stake in that scene than whether Snape becomes a better person. But if indeed that is Dumbledore’s concern at that moment, why does he not say so? After all, he has just reasoned at length with Draco on this very subject, and has time to say much more to Snape than “Severus, please.” Why did he not at the very least say “please don’t“? I just think it highly suspicious that Rowling writes the scene in such a way that Harry if left to infer a meaning from Dumbledore’s words that is never stated — just as I think it highly suspicious that she “resolves” the debate about Snape’s true loyalties (a debate of obsessive concern for many characters in the book since the early chapters of book 1) at the beginning of book 6. And more suspicious still that this supposed resolution is offered to the books’ readers but not to any of the main characters. The fact that everyone among the major characters thinks the “question of Snape” is now answered is the surest possible sign that it is not, as every reader of detective fiction can attest.

    Think also of this: Snape (as he and Draco are running away) knows that Voldemort wants to kill Harry himself, so he prevents the other Death Eaters from doing so. But he also knows that Voldemort wants Draco to kill Dukmbledore — we hear this in chapter 2 — yet he does nothing to try to make that happen. He neither commands nor encourages nor threatens Draco, but rather does the job himself. He will tell Voldemort that he had to do it because of Draco’s weakness, but he had more than a chance to make sure that the Dark Lord’s will was accomplished — and did not.

    Suspicious, I tell you! Suspicious. My prediction: in the end, Snape’s murder of Dumbledore will be absolutely necessary to the defeat of Voldemort. And Dumbledore knew it, and willed it.

  15. Ayjay.

    “I think it highly suspicious that she ‘resolves’ the debate about Snape’s true loyalties (a debate of obsessive concern for many characters in the book since the early chapters of book 1) at the beginning of book 6.”

    But you’re projecting backwards a dispute which is only realized at the end of Book 6, with Dumbledore’s murder. I sincerely doubt any conscientious reader of the Potter books read the chapter “Spinner’s End” and thought, “Ah, Snape’s gone over to Voldemort!” I certainly didn’t it–I read it as just one more fascinating spin on the strange character that is Snape. It was only at the end of Book 6 that I though, “Damn! Has she been telling me that this is the way it is all this time? And have I been as oblivious to it as everyone else?” That’s the shock of HBP: not that she arguably tosses off a cheap, quick resolution to a deep mystery, but rather the possibility that there really hasn’t been that much of a mystery after all.

    “The fact that everyone among the major characters thinks the ‘question of Snape’ is now answered is the surest possible sign that it is not, as every reader of detective fiction can attest.”

    Two responses: 1) I didn’t know Rowling was writing a detective novel; I thought she was writing a story about a boy growing up and taking on a perilous destiny. 2) Actually, the trickiest trick that any novelist can pull off is to put something in plain sight, then get everyone thinking that the truth can’t possibly be in plain sight.

    I agree that Snape may play an essential role in Harry’s ultimate defeat of Dumbledore, and that role may well involve Harry coming to some acceptance and understanding (if not forgiveness) of Snape past and present. But I stand by my belief that, as things appear now, if Harry’s mission turns out to be dependent upon discovering some hidden message from Dumbledore, one which reveals that Snape was actually a super-secret, triple-cross agent all along, it’ll let a huge amount of steam out the story.

  16. cc says:

    Here’s some clues that Snape is still on Harry’s side. At the end, when Snape is running from the grounds being chased by Harry, he’s still instrucing him: “Keep your mouth shut and your mind closed!” Stuff Harry’s going to need to perfect before confronting you know who.

    Harry also tries to get the DA to specify what Snape’s role was during the fight with the death eaters, and no one can confirm what Snape did. He kept Flitwick (and Hermione and Luna, I think) distracted in his office, out of the fight. After D.’s death, Snape then got the death eaters & Malfoy out of the place as quickly as possible, to end it, and ensure no one else was hurt.

    I just love that bit where Snape is continuing to tutor Harry, even as Harry is trying to kill him! (My daughter says it’s taunting, not teaching, however.)

  17. Timothy Burke says:

    I think your daughter is right. When has Snape ever genuinely tried to teach Harry anything? Now it turns out that he’s recently taught him a great deal with his old textbook, and maybe there’s more to that than meets the eye, of course. But otherwise, Snape has actually tried to impede Harry’s education on many occasions.

  18. john theibault says:

    Finally, I get to weigh in.

    I read the book over the weekend and your and Russell’s review on Monday, but have only now had enough free time to join the conversation. So much for my brilliant insight that RAB is Regulus Black.

    I was somewhat flummoxed that the first two responses I had a chance to read, yours and Russell’s, came to a very different conclusion than I did, especially because I suspect that the two of you are a bit more experienced with the genre we are dealing with than I am. I guess my interpretation was a lot closer to the fandom consensus position mentioned at Russell’s blog, though I haven’t had a chance to dive into Mugglenet, Sugarquill, or the like yet. One of the great things about Rowling’s structuring of her books is that she has not really shut down either of the extremes of interpretation. Trying to pick up the thread from where it is now…

    The discussion at Russell’s blog began to confuse two separate issues. 1) Did Snape actually kill Dumbledore? and 2) Is Snape now, and has he been for some time, on Voldemort’s side and not on Dumbledore’s? My quick answer to those questions would be 1) yes and 2) no. Some people have made a case at the margins for Snape and Dumbledore having faked the whole thing. That, it seems to me, would require too much of an explanation in book six that could not be fit into a plot driver.

    But how do we determine that Snape has joined Voldemort’s cause? He killed Dumbledore. He looked at Dumbledore with hatred and disgust before he killed him. He agreed to kill him at the start of the book (though the reader isn’t let in on the secret until the end). Harry is a more interesting character if he is right and Dumbledore is wrong about Snape. I think the whole interpretation rests too heavily on Snape’s look of hatred and disgust and debatable notions about what will make Harry a more interesting hero.

    What can I offer up in rebuttal? Dumbledore’s plea. Others have noted that Dumbledore has repeatedly shown that he was unafraid of death. Even when the death eaters arrived to join Draco he expressed no fear about what might happen to him. It was only when Snape arrived, without any specific statement that he was about to kill him, that Dumbledore began his plea. And the plea never said anything about not killing him. It is extremely out of character for Dumbledore to plead for his life. Perhaps he was about to plea for help. Or perhaps he was about to plea to complete an agreed upon action.

    Dumbledore’s trust in Snape. Dumbledore trusts lots of people, but there are only two people that he consistently says that he trusts: Hagrid and Snape. Before Draco arrives, Dumbledore directs Harry to go find Snape and to not tell anyone else about his arrival. Why? Why couldn’t Harry go get McGonagall instead? Why couldn’t he take Dumbledore to Madame Pomfrey? Dumbledore’s relation to Snape is clearly special in a way that it is not with even other members of the Order. It was hard enough for Harry to force the potion down Dumbledore’s throat. Would Harry be prepared if Dumbledore had said he had to kill him? Dumbledore trusts Snape to do that.

    Draco Malfoy. The other key figure in the room, who seems to have gotten lost in the commentary. What do we learn about Draco Malfoy in that scene? He is not prepared to kill Dumbledore. He is not yet evil, but he is attracted to evil. And who does he end up with at the end of the book? Snape. I guess we’ll find out early in book seven whether Snape takes Draco to Voldemort to suffer for his failure or squirrels him away for protection. (And, incidentally, here’s why I think it matters that RAB is Regulus Black. Remember he died because he tried to back out of his allegiance with Voldemort. Draco’s at the same crossroads. It also adds significance to the fact that Harry has inherited 12 Grimmauld Place, perhaps even gives Kreacher a chance at redemption.) If Snape did tell Dumbledore about the Unbreakable Vow, then it would I think be important to Dumbledore that it not be Draco who murders him.

    Dumbledore pinned Harry. He did not trust Harry not to intervene in this fight. He must have suspected that an attempt on his life was likely, yet he deliberately kept Harry from helping him. Do you think he guessed wrongly about how Harry would act? You and Russell want Harry to be his own man and not rely on Dumbledore. But in doing so, you don’t just make Dumbledore less astute than Harry, you make him an idiot. Dumbledore is too smart in his psychology of others to be that stupid about Snape. Especially when his commitment to Snape is that much more intense.

    And about Snape’s look of hatred and disgust… Play along with me for a moment. Let’s say I’m right that Dumbledore’s plea is that Snape kill him so as to spare Draco’s having to do so. That means that Dumbledore has just asked him to 1) destroy a part of his soul, perhaps for the first time in his life (do we know if Snape has ever used Avada Kedavra on anyone before?) 2) eliminate the only ally who trusts him on a mission that he has sacrificed all to achieve 3) make someone whom he despises and who despises him the focal point of all future efforts to achieve that goal 4) perhaps do so in full knowledge that Harry Potter is watching him do it. I think that might generate a little hatred and disgust.

    Well, I’ve used up the free time I have alloted. I will say that if Rowling has to have Dumbledore give Harry any advice in book seven, she has already put a legitimate mechanism in place: his portrait in McGonagall’s office. There’s more to my reactions than that, but that should be enough for going on with…

  19. Timothy Burke says:

    You folks are almost starting to convince me. I think it’s got to be handled very carefully, however. If it turns out that Snape and Dumbledore essentially agreed some time before the book’s climax that Snape would at some point kill Dumbledore in order to fool Voldemort and save Draco from evil, then my opinion of Dumbledore goes down a long ways. There’s got to be another way to beat Voldemort than a suicide pact. If it turns out that Dumbledore is not really dead, then that’s worse, in my opinion–a possible jump-the-shark moment.

  20. Chris says:

    I had the same reaction as Ayjay and John, both of whom stated the argument nicely. In addition, the “Severus…please” dovetails nicely with the instructions that Dumbledore gave to Harry to follow his instructions even at the cost of Harry abandoning or killing him. It’s not a stretch to imagine that he gave similar instructions to Snape.

    And Tim, I don’t think the two of them need to have explicitly agreed that Snape would kill Dumbledore. It could be more contingent than that: the maintenance of deep cover at any cost, the bombing of Coventry, and so forth. Dumbledore has sprung Malfoy’s trap but is weakened. He talks Malfoy down but knows he cannot defeat the Death Eaters and protect Harry in his current condition. If Snape does not kill him, Snape will die and so cannot help in any way, then or later. Perhaps without Snape, Dumbledore will be killed in any case by Voldemorts potion. Dumbledore knows that Snape is clever enough to realize this and see the only way out, and thus pleads with him to do what is necessary.

  21. Chris says:

    In fact, the story of the withered arm from the other Horcrux, where Snape was the only one who could save Dumbledore, lends support to the contention that Dumbledore would not have survived the potion in any case if Snape was killed by breaking the unbreakable vow.

  22. Timothy Burke says:

    This sparks another thought. If each Horcrux is protected by a booby trap that wounds or kills the person destroying it, then I suspect Harry’s conflict in the last book is going to involve the need to sacrifice friends to defuse each one. Perhaps that’s what Dumbledore is trying to get him to see at the end, if you guys are right, that leadership in the struggle against Voldemort is going to come at a price, that Harry cannot sacrifice himself but has to sacrifice others. Of course, if the seventh Horcrux is indeed Harry’s scar, that makes it even more complicated: the final sacrifice may be Harry himself.

  23. Ayjay says:

    (Geez. I go out into the woods to commune with nature for a couple of days, and look at all the fun I miss.)

    A response to Russell: One of the reasons for the success of the HP books is Rowling’s cleverness at amalgamating several genres of popular fiction, including the school story, heroic fantasy, that magical-comedy thing that Brits do so well, and — quite obviously — the detective story. Every book in the series has strong detective-story elements, though this is most obvious in the first: Who is trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone? Later questions will be: Who is petryfying the students of Hogwarts? Where did this mysterious diary come from? If Sirius Black is innocent, then who killed all those people? etc. etc. etc. Harry plays the role of boy detective perhaps more than any other role, and typically (like many fictional detectives) he gets sidetracked, he follows false leads, he loses the thread he is supposed to be following because he’s fascinated by something else. In book 6 he is distracted from interrogating Horace Slughorn because he is obsessed by Draco Malfoy (as perhaps he should be!); in the first book he is distracted from any number of possible clues to the perfidy of Quirrell because he is obsessed with — Snape. The question of Snape’s loyalties is the first of Harry’s obsessions; it has never abated; it is shared by many characters, and as Tim said in his original post, Rowling has expended a lot of narrative energy in intensifying it. If she has simply settled that ongoing obsessive question in book 6, then she has certainly already “let a lot of steam out of the story,” and I don’t think she’s dumb enough to do that. Snape has been, for a long time, a double agent, and the question about every double agent is where his true loyalties lie. Too much has been invested in the “question of Snape” — it cannot possibly be resolved at this point.

    Having said that, I too would be disappointed by some “secret message” from Dumbledore, and still more disappointed if Dumbledore turned out not to be dead. But I don’t think such deus-ex-machina machinations are in the cards — I trust Rowling’s skill too much for that. Nor do I think there was a “suicide pact” between Dumbledore and Snape. For one thing, it seems to me more likely that Dumbledore and Snape had a silent conversation at that last moment — especially since what is emphasized repeatedly in this book is the skill of both of them at Legilemency and Occlumency (and Snape shows his skill as a Legilimens in the very next chapter, as he reads Harry’s mind and thereby parries every curse before Harry can utter it). If I had to guess, I would guess that DUmbledore knows he is dying but is absolutely determined that it is not Draco who finishes him off — perhaps he only knows that Voldemort wants Draco to be the killer; perhaps he also knows why. But he will not allow that to happen, and Snape is the means by which he prevents it. Perhaps the rage that Harry sees in Snape’s face is rage at having to kill the very one who trusted him and believed in him.

  24. Timothy Burke says:

    As I’ve said, I’m prepared to see all the set-up around Snape pay off in something more than him just being a snivelling bad guy. But boy howdy, it had better be done just right, or it will suck big time.

  25. Ayjay says:

    Sorry, in my unseemly rush to respond to Russell I failed to see that John Theibault had already made at least one of my points. Props, John.

  26. I’ve also been away from the computer for a few days; Ayjay, you make a strong case, and as Tim says, I confess that I’m entirely prepared to see Rowling pull off one more twist regarding Snape. I’m just doubtful it’ll play out that way, and in any case, fear that if it does it will be very hard for Rowling to present to us a story that won’t, as Tim succinctly put it, “suck big time.” I care about Harry as the hero of this story; that’s what it really comes down to for me, and I don’t want the heroic, unexpected, and powerful transformation which Rowling gave us at the end of Book 6 to be lost by having to send Harry back to “school,” literally or otherwise.

    One final point, in response to Ayjay:

    “The question of Snape’s loyalties is the first of Harry’s obsessions; it has never abated; it is shared by many characters, and as Tim said in his original post, Rowling has expended a lot of narrative energy in intensifying it. If she has simply settled that ongoing obsessive question in book 6, then she has certainly already “let a lot of steam out of the story,” and I don’t think she’s dumb enough to do that. Snape has been, for a long time, a double agent, and the question about every double agent is where his true loyalties lie. Too much has been invested in the “question of Snape”—it cannot possibly be resolved at this point.”

    I respectfully disagree: I think, rather than a lot of steam having been “let out” of the story, we are left with the steam shooting out of the kettle at high speed, the story having at last finally come to a true, full, boil. In any case, we’ll know in a couple of years, won’t we?

  27. john theibault says:

    Looks like this conversation is winding down, but I’ll add a couple more thoughts. Both Ayjay and Chris make a number of good points and I think we are in broad agreement. I’m glad if we’re helping to reconcile you to the notion that Snape may not have shown his true colors in book six.

    The bottom line on my own skepticism that Snape is now Voldemort’s man is that it diminishes Dumbledore too much for the amount that it advances Harry. After all, the consensus expectation going into this book was that Dumbledore would have to die, simply because it opens the path for Harry’s development. That would be true whichever side Snape is on. But if Dumbledore is wrong about Snape, then there are termites at the foundations of too many other key themes of the series. Book seven works better for me if Dumbledore really is the greatest wizard of his generation and Harry really does have residual resentments caused by Snape’s treatment of him rather than a greater intuitive sense of good and evil.

    Indeed, my gloss on the first interview segment from Rowling that Russell cites is that Dumbledore’s mistakes all revolve around how he handled Harry, not how he handled Snape. As book seven starts, his death hands de facto leadership of the anti-Voldemort coalition to Harry; but Dumbledore has failed to explain to Harry why he trusts Snape, who all of his strongest allies are, and how he first came to the thought that Horcruxes are the key to destroying Voldemort. (I’m sure an explanation might be that Harry’s scar might give Voldemort that information directly, so Dumbledore couldn’t risk passing it along to Harry, no matter how important it is) It’s entirely up to Harry how he defines the line between true allies (Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Lupin) and potential allies or at least not allies of Voldemort (which range from kids at school like Ernie McMillan to the most ineffectual and annoying ministry officials like Fudge and Umbridge). I suppose Rowling may opt for a “go it alone” strategy. But I think it will be more in keeping with the lessons of Dumbledore to build a team to fight against Voldemort. And (if the pro-Snape interpretation turns out correct) because Dumbledore failed to tell Harry why Snape could be trusted, his efforts to build the team will be handicapped by his assumption that an ally is really an enemy. It is indeed important for Rowling to treat Harry’s realization that Snape is on his side carefully — and not just have a back from the dead note from Dumbledore to explain the background. But it can be done as part of Harry’s process of learning the capabilities and limitations of all of his allies.

    My other thought is on Horcruxes. I’m really skeptical of the notion that Harry’s scar is a horcrux. I’m under the impression that horcruxes are really hard to do and they are designed to shield a part of the soul in a way that is only accessible to the person who made it. Harry’s scar is an accident and appears to be extremely vulnerable to people aside from Voldemort. To justify making Harry’s scar a horcrux, Rowling will have to spend more time explaining how horcruxes are actually constructed — a rather desultory excursion for the seventh book, which already has dozens of loose ends to tie up.

  28. Ayjay says:

    (First of all, thanks to Russell and John for continuing the conversation beyond the Unofficial Blog Sell-By Date. My biggest complaint about blogs is the way their architecture, coupled with the pestilence of comment spam, militates against the extensions of conversations beyond a day or two. So thanks for swimming against the stream.)

    Russell: I still can’t see how the resolution of a major narrative question can ever create, or sustain, narrative “steam” — but leaving that debate aside, let me venture this: whether the “question of Snape” has been resolved or not, what certainly remains unknown is Dumbledore’s reasons for “trust[ing] Severus Snape completely,” as he puts it in this book. That is certainly one of the major mysteries of the series, sure to be answered in the final volume, when we will also learn whether Dumbledore was right to be so utterly certain about Snape’s faithfulness. It’s interesting to speculate on what could make him so sure.

    Dumbledore does not explain this to Harry, though there is a moment when he appears to be thinking of doing just that. On one level he simply can’t, because if he did a major piece of the Book 7 puzzle would be supplied too early; but in terms of his character, I wonder if this is not yet another example of Dumbledore’s “isolation” having bred habits of secrecy, or at least of silence, that have damaged his own cause. Clearly in Book 6 he tries very hard to overcome those habits, making Harry a confidant and a partner, revealing to him much that he had previously hidden, and encouraging Harry to confide in Ron and Hermione. (He does not want Harry “going it alone” in the way that he himself did for too long; the importance of Harry’s having peers and partners a point that Russell makes.) Perhaps there were good reasons for Dumbledore having withheld the reasons for his trust of Snape from Harry; we will, presumably, find out.

    Finally, given Dumbledore’s secretiveness, will the Order of the Phoenix be able to function without him? Or has he consolidated too much knowledge and power in himself for too long? I have a feeling that the Order won’t be able to offer Harry too much help or protection in Book 7.

  29. Ayjay says:

    (Forgot once more to say that those last two paragraphs are riffing on what John said.)

  30. Timothy Burke says:

    Ayjay mentions one of the things that makes me inclined to think that the mystery of Snape has been largely resolved, which is that Dumbledore’s fallibility as a mentor of Harry and leader of the Order of the Phoenix has already long since been demonstrated, that his secrecy has had a price already and been proven on other matters to be something of a misjudgement. Given that this is the case, I don’t see why it’s impossible to think that his trust in Snape is also problematic.

    On the other hand, as quite a few people have noted, we don’t know why Dumbledore trusts Snape, given the visible evidence that should lead him to feel otherwise. Until we know that–and that is still a mystery, we can’t really say one way or the other.

  31. Wow, I didn’t expect anyone to be blogging on a Sunday afternoon/evening. Another couple of very strong arguments put forward by Ayjay and John. In particular, John, your interpretation of Dumbledore’s admitted mistakes being specific to how he treated Harry (your not untypical teacherly, well-intentioned, condescension-secretiveness), and impacting how he treated Snape, is a valid one, and one that fits in pretty well with a portrait of a man who is brilliant but limited in some of the ways Rowling implied. I wouldn’t say that I’m now officially agnostic on the question (Tim rightly points out that it is still entirely possible to read the evidence as warranting a broader concern about Dumbledore’s foresight), but I’m definitely prepared to admit that I may have read this one completely wrong.

    Ayjay, regarding “steam”: I think this is just a case of our using a single metaphor to communicate two different things.

    Two last points (for the night, at least): 1) as John notes, there’s been a ton of discussion of HBP over on my own blog, especially regarding the Horcruxes. Interested parties may want to check some of that out. 2) A couple more bits from the final installment of the interview with J.K. Rowling over at Mugglenet:

    MA: Does the gleam of triumph still have yet to make an appearance?
    JKR: That’s still enormously significant. And let’s face it, I haven’t told you that much is enormously significant, so you can let your imaginations run free there.
    ES: I think everybody realized it was significant when they read it but we didn’t see it materialize in 5 or 6.
    JKR: Well, it still is.
    ES:We’ve been kind of waiting for the big revelation.
    JKR: Absolutely, that’s for seven. That’s for seven.
    MA: Here at the end you sort of get the feeling that we know what Harry’s setting out to do, but can this really be the entire throughline of the rest of the story?
    JKR: It’s not all of it. Obviously it’s not all of it, but still, that is the way to kill Voldemort. That’s not to say it won’t be extremely an torturous and winding journey, but that’s what he’s got to do. Harry now knows — well he believes he knows – what he’s facing. Dumbledore’s guesses are never very far wide of the mark. I don’t want to give too much away here, but Dumbledore says, ‘There are four out there, you’ve got to get rid of four, and then you go for Voldemort.’ So that’s where he is, and that’s what he’s got to do.
    ES: It’s a tall order.
    JKR: It’s a huge order. But Dumbledore has given him some pretty valuable clues and Harry, also, in the course of previous six books has amassed more knowledge than he realizes. That’s all I am going to say….

    MA: Oh, here’s one [from our forums] that I’ve really got to ask you. Has Snape ever been loved by anyone?
    JKR: Yes, he has, which in some ways makes him more culpable even than Voldemort, who never has….
    MA: Was there anyone else present in Godric’s Hollow the night Harry’s parents were killed?
    JKR: No comment.
    [All laugh.]
    JKR: I’m sorry!

  32. scrivener says:

    Don’t know if anyone’s still checking in here, but I finally finished the novel today and am just now looking around,

    I am very much in the Ajay, John, Chris camp and I think they’ve laid out the case quite well. I just wanted to address one point that Russell makes when he says “I care about Harry as the hero of this story; that’s what it really comes down to for me, and I don’t want the heroic, unexpected, and powerful transformation which Rowling gave us at the end of Book 6 to be lost by having to send Harry back to ‘school,’ literally or otherwise.” If Snape is in fact still Dumbledore’s man and he killed him because of a silent conersation in which Dumbledore told him he was dying anyway and ordered him to cast the Avada Kedavra curse to protect himself and Draco and to maintain his cover with Voldemort, why does that necessarily invalidate Harry as a hero? Yes, it means he’ll have been wrong about Snape and that Dumbeldore was right, but it opens up the story line in the final book of having Harry come to an understanding of the powerful conflicts Snape faces.

    I also agree with Miranda that we’re going to discover, Harry is going to discover, that Snape was in love with Lily, and that that is at least a major part of why Dumbledore trusts him. When Snape told LV of the prophecy and LV killed Lily, that broke his hold over Snape, who was so filled with regret over his treason, that he devoted himself to undermining LV for the rest of his life. And then was forced to once again at least appear to commit treason by killing Dumbledore here in book 6. So Snape is responsible for the deaths of both Harry’s parents and of his beloved mentor, yet Harry will need to grow up enough to recognize that there are layers of ambiguity in Snape’s culpability and he will have to come to some respect and sympathy for the man. That is, indeed, a heroic quest to set before Harry, to find a way to love even Snape.

    I don’t think anything in that interview Russell cites makes it clear that Dumbledore is wrong about Snape, just that he’s capable of making some grave errors, and I very much agree with John that Dumbledore’s errors seem to have more to do with his handling of Harry than his trust of Snape.

    I also don’t see how Harry himself, or Harry’s scar, can be a horcrux, because after all Voldemort is reduced to next-to-nothing immediately after killing Harry’s parents. If Harry is a horcrux, he would have had to have been made one due to those murders, but when would Voldemort have managed to do so? No, the horcruxes must have already been formed before that fateful night.

  33. Ahistoricality says:

    I think “RAB” is a misreading of “RAF” and Voldemort’s true nemesis is Russel Arben Fox.

    I think J.K.Rowling had better turn out book seven quickly: there’s no excuse at this point for there being any ambiguity in her mind how things will go. But she better have some really good continuity people reading the drafts.

    Harry could be a horcrux by virtue of the murder of his parents. It could even be unintentional on Voldemort’s part. Who cares? We don’t know enough about the damn things, because Rowling hasn’t explained them properly yet.


  34. jadagul says:

    How’s this for an idea? Suppose Harry actually did become a horcrux–which I’m not sure I buy, but seems possible. Then when Voldemort used Harry’s blood in his rebirthing, he absorbed that fragment of his soul back into himself–that’s why he can now touch Harry safely. So the brief “look of triumph” on Dumbledore’s face when he hears that Voldemort can touch Harry, at the end of Goblet of Fire, is because Voldemort has inadvertently destroyed one of his own horcruxes, and they can now destroy the rest without putting Harry in danger. It’s a little weird, but no weirder than some other ideas that I’ve heard floating around, and it would explain that seeming inexplicable look of triumph.

  35. LowLife says:

    Questions I have:

    1) What kind of potion did Dumbledore drink in the cave?

    2) Dumbledore said that the defense of the horcrux was good – that it needed two people to beat it. Who did RAB take with him when he stole the real horcrux?

    3) If RAB drank the potion (or his companion) why was there some left when Harry and Dumbledore got there?

    Reasons that Dumbledore is alive:

    1) He said he could fake a death.

    2) Harry thought Dumbledore looked like he was sleeping.

    3) Dumbledore is the greatest wizard of his time.

    Why Lily isn’t Voldemort’s half sister: wrong generation. More likely she is related to the Blacks, (and therefore Snape and Narcissa).

  36. Sorry to keep coming back to this with additionall comments, but a friend of mine just left on my blog a long comment that included a possible reading of the scene where Dumbledore drinks that potion that is, I think, the best I’ve heard yet. Here’s an excerpt:


    Dumbledore wasn’t simply in physical pain in the cave. As I was reading that passage the first time, two things struck me. First, Harry’s willingness to keep giving Dumbledore the potion seemed too easy and not exactly in character. Second, Harry and Dumbledore seemed to be talking past each other. Dumbledore is saying odd things like, “I don’t want,” “I don’t like,” “Don’t make me,” “Make it stop,” “I can’t, I can’t, don’t make me.” So far, it’s weird dialogue, but basically consistent with a guy that doesn’t want to drink a potion, but is being made to.

    After that, his words make it harder to sustain that interpretation. He says, “It’s all my fault, all my fault; Please make it stop, I know I did wrong, oh please make it stop and I’ll never, never again….” He says, “Don’t hurt them, don’t hurt them, please, please, it’s my fault, hurt me instead….” “Please, please, please, no…not that, not that, I’ll do anything….” And then his last words, in all caps, “KILL ME!”

    After he partially recovers, he repeatedly insists that he needs to see Snape, in such a way that it seems unlikely that Dumbledore (who shows few signs of self-interest in the series) is doing so because he wants or expects to be healed by Snape.

    My loose theory is that Dumbledore was seeing something while he was drinking the potion: perhaps what was happening at the school contemporaneously or in the near future. That would explain his sense of guilt, his desire for “them” not to be hurt, and ultimately his command to “KILL ME!” He’s pleading for an opportunity to intercede, to offer himself as a sacrifice to save others (e.g., Malfoy, Snape, the underprotected students at Hogwarts, etc.).


    One of the things that makes this such an intriguing possibility to me, as I say in a comment right after my friend’s, is that leaving behind as a final ward to protect the horcrux a potion that would give the drinker a foretaste/vision/experience of their own death fits Voldemort perfectly. His greatest fear and pre-occupation is his own death; surely he would assume that there could be no better guard than putting people through what their own death would involve. Anyway, make of it what you will.

  37. scrivener says:

    A possible answer to Lowlife’s question about who helped RAB: If it’s Regulus Black, as I think it is, maybe he took Kreacher with him to help–he could have ordered him to force-feed (force-drink?) the potion to him and to help him leave. This suggestion came on Phantom’s discussion thread, and it makes sense to me.

  38. Ayjay says:

    I like your friend’s idea very much, Russell — it makes sense of what otherwise would seem to be random delirious comments from Dymbledore as he drinks the potion. The one hesitation I have regards this statement: “he repeatedly insists that he needs to see Snape, in such a way that it seems unlikely that Dumbledore (who shows few signs of self-interest in the series) is doing so because he wants or expects to be healed by Snape.” The problem with this is that, when he previously found the ring-Horcrux, he sought out Snape to heal him, which left him (he says) with a withered hand rather than something much worse.

    A curious element of this whjole book is its emphasis on Snape’s powers of healing: he instantly heals Draco’s wounds after Harry uses the Sectumsempra spell on him, something that strikes Harry forcefully enough that he recalls it later. But then, the Sectumsempra hex was invented by Snape himself — could it be, then, that when Dumbledore seeks Snape’s help after encountering Voldemort’s Horcruxes, that is because some of Snape’s own magic went into them? (Probably not, since otherwise Dumbledore wouldn’t Dumbledore have gotten more information about the Horcruxes from Snape? Still, it’s curious.)

    Very interesting speculations. . . .

  39. Bill C says:

    Sorry I am so late in posting, but it took me several days to find this blog again (it disappeared as if by – dare I say it? – magic).

    My observations (and bear with me Russell, because you’ve read some of these on your own blog):

    1.) Harry is unlikely to be a Horcrux. Because of the Prophecy, Voldemort knows he must destroy Harry. Why would he make a Horcrux of someone he knows he must kill? Too illogical.

    2.) Lily can’t be Voldemort’s sister. In the scenario you outline, it would make her older than Voldemort and we all know Voldemort attended Hogwarts prior to the Potters.

    3.) Snape knew Harry had his old Potions book. He knew it before Harry cursed Draco. This is stated bluntly during the book’s conclusion. Yet, after Harry hits Draco with a very serious curse, based on the Dark Arts, what does Snape do? Gives him a couple of detentions – that’s all. No talk about expulsion. No reporting it to McGonagall or Dumbledore. Also, Snape knows darn well that Harry is still in possession of his Potions book and he lets Harry keep it. Clearly, if he were on Voldemort’s side, he would have forced Harry to surrender the genuine article. My guess is that Snape left his old Potions book behind precisely for it to fall into Harry’s hands. As it’s still safe in the Room of Requirement, I trust we’ll see it again in Book 7.

    4.) I think there is great significance in the fact that Dumbledore froze Harry as Draco disarmed Dumbledore. First, one of the major themes of HBP was Dumbledore making Harry an active adult partner – not a child who needs protection. He just took Harry on a perilous journey to retrieve a Horcrux. At that moment, Harry is under an invisibility cloak and in no immediate danger. If Dumbledore was looking to defeat the Death Eaters, why immobilize the greatest weapon he’s got outside of himself – especially at the cost of losing his wand? No, Dumbledore knew that Harry would attempt to save Dumbledore and that would have spoiled Dumbledore’s plan.

    5.) Dumbledore’s sacrifice is perfectly in keeping with his character. If he triumphs over Draco, both Draco and Snape both die – Draco at Voldemort’s hands and Snape due to the Unbreakable Vow. I’m sure Dumbledore would chose to die himself (as he is unafraid of death) rather than see those two die. His concern for Draco is underlined in the conversation he has with Draco immediately prior to his death.

    6.) Snape tells Narcissa and her sister that he hasn’t killed Potter previously because Potter was Dumbledore’s favorite and it would have exposed him as Voldemort’s man. This is absurd because Snape has done considerably more that “not kill” Harry. He’s saved Harry’s life in Book 1 and Book 3. If he really were Voldemort’s man, all he would have had to do is let Harry die

    Now for some observations from the “technical,” writing point of view:

    7.) Rowling has demonstrated again and again that she is a skillful mystery writer. And she adheres to Rule # 1 of Mysteries: you must give the reader enough clues for them to solve the mystery themselves. Why would she tell us that Snape’s hand “twitched” when he was asked to take the third part of the Unbreakable Vow (the part where he vowed to kill Dumbledore if Draco couldn’t)? Similarly, Harry & Snape’s exchange about cowardice is there for a reason.

    8.) She includes the information that Dumbledore & Snape were arguing about something that Snape didn’t want to do – yet, does not reveal the actual content of the argument. Clearly, that is coming later.

    9.) Similarly, and even more importantly, she has been teasing us through several books about Dumbledore’s “ironclad” reason for trusting Snape. If this were the “final reveal” about Snape’s true character, I think she would have told us the reason first, making Snape’s treachery even more shocking. Revealing the reason after the betrayal is very anti-climatic.

    10.) Let’s also look at Rowling’s language in two passages. The first occurs as Harry is force-feeding Dumbledore Voldemort’s potion:

    “‘You’ve got to keep drinking, remember? You told me you had to keep drinking. Here…’ Hating himself, repulsed by what he was doing, Harry forced the goblet back toward Dumbledore’s mouth …” [P. 571 (US)/531 (UK)

    The second occurs less than 30 pages later as Snape prepares to unleash his Avada Kedavra:

    “Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face…” [P.595 (US)/556 (UK)]

    Is it a coincidence that within very few pages, JKR chooses the same root words “hate” and “repulse” as both Snape and Harry are forced by circumstances to harm Dumbledore?

    11.) We have all agreed that Dumbledore would not be pleading for his life. Dumbledore had been very anxious to have Snape at his side (he mentions to Harry to fetch Snape and only Snape and to tell no one). As Dumbledore had total confidence in Snape, why would he think Snape was going to harm him? Snape doesn’t burst onto the scene exclaiming, “Guess what, Albus? I’ve joined the Death Eaters!” At the moment he appears, even Harry thinks he’s there as part of the Order. So why the plea? The ONLY explanation that makes sense is that Dumbledore wanted Snape to kill him and he already knew (thanks to their previous argument) that Snape really did not want to do it.

    Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  40. Timothy Burke says:

    You know, Dumbledore’s dialogue while drinking the potion sounds a lot as if it would be Regulus Black’s internal dialogue while he was a Death Eater.

  41. Wow, Tim–that’s a great possibility as well. Good thinking!

  42. barry says:

    The big problem that I have with Snape killing Dumbledore on the latter’s request is that it’s a huge emotional dirty trick; similarly if Dumbledore faked his death. It would make the series a long, drawn-out version of ‘…and then he woke up and realized it was all a dream.’.

    So I’ll work on the premise that Snape did kill Dumbledore, and did so against Dumbledore’s will.

    Dumbledore’s plea to Snape can be explained as a plea for Snape’s sake, not for his own. He’d realized that Snape was on the verge of irreversibly going over to the dark side, and wanted to prevent that. Snape not killing Harry could be explained by Harry still being under some sort of protection, if only that Voldemort wants to personally kill Harry.

  43. Bill C says:

    I don’t find Dumbledore planning his own death to be an emotional dirty trick. Dumbledore was fated to die anyway. The mentor always does in these kinds of stories.

    Your explanation of Snape sparing Harry’s life requires some information we don’t have yet. Believeing the opposite (Snape is still on the side of good) only requires looking at clues already planted by JKR:

    1.) Dumbledore freezing Harry – truly a stupid move if Dumbledore wishes to survive. He has just completed a dangerous task where Harry was his active partner.

    2.) The argument between Snape & Dumbledore overheard by Hagrid.

    3.) The similarity in JKR’s chosen language (hate/revulsion) on both Harry’s & Snape’s faces when they are harming Dumbledore.

    4.) Her decision to withold Dumbledore’s reason for trusting Snape to Book 7.

    5.) Snape’s protection of Harry from other Death Eaters. Snape’s saving Harry’s life on previous occasions. Snape’s giving Harry advice even while they are fighting. The lack of any evidence Snape did anything during the attack on Hogwarts except kill Dumbledore.

    6.) Snape’s rage at being called a coward.

    All of these require no additional hidden information to fit neatly into the conclusion that Snape is still working against Voldemort.

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