Dumbledore finds and destroys the Ring Horcrux, badly injuring his right hand in the process. He
gets safely back to Hogwarts, where he calls on Snape, who saves his life with some unknown spell
or potion. Snape does not know about the Horcruxes. Voldemort did not tell the Death
Eaters about them. The fact that they "knew the steps" he had taken to avoid death only means
that he told them he was invulnerable - that he had taken steps. Not necessarily that he
told them what the steps were. If they knew about the Horcruxes, Lucius wouldn't have been
tossing the Riddle Diary around into anyone's school cauldron. Snape knows a lot of dark magic,
though, and he knows that, whatever Dumbledore encountered, it was vicious. Perhaps he suspects
Dumbledore has told no one about the Horcruxes either. Snape knows only that Dumbledore is onto
something, and that he ran into some very Dark Magic - curse magic, which nearly killed
him. Snape thinks back to Voldemort's missing years, and to his rebirth. He is an expert in the
Dark Arts. He wonders if Voldemort has made a Horcrux.
Dumbledore fully realizes how much danger he is in, as he tries to find and destroy the Horcruxes.
He also realizes that the damage to his hand is irreversible. It was squeezing the life out of
him like the green potion from the cave until Snape stopped it. Severus cannot reverse the
damage, but he manages to stop it from spreading further. He asks the Headmaster what he is
doing. Dumbledore tells Severus only that it is a very important task, that it will involve
Harry, and that it is the key to bringing down Voldemort. Snape and Lily's Vow will
become more important than ever, warns Dumbledore. There may soon be a time where Snape will
need to openly declare his loyalties.
This is a salient point for Snape: if Dumbledore has found something - really found something to
turn the conflict around against Voldemort, then Snape's carefully constructed double life cannot hold
up much longer. The danger will escalate tremendously. He will no longer have a safety net and
be able to jump from one side to the other. Snape knows that Voldemort's rule would be a
nightmare. He is too intelligent not to see the flaws in Voldemort's designs, and the limited
life that it would offer to the rest of the world, including Snape himself. However, having a
foot in both camps is an effective means of giving himself protection. As long as both sides
trust him, he has more options. He sees that this luxury may not last much longer.
Dumbledore also makes it clear that he needs Snape's unquestioned obedience regarding actions
that may need to be taken in this cause, now or in the future (much the same promise he elicits
from Harry before the trip into the cave), and that, above all, Harry must be protected. He
reminds Snape that all of these issues were a part of his Vow to Lily. He must know that Snape
will obey orders - all orders - from now on. Dumbledore doesn't ask Snape to kill him,
or make positive plans about when or whether to die. He simply knows, at this point, that he
is stacking the cards against himself by going after Horcruxes, and that he may not survive it.
He knows that he must do it, regardless of the cost to himself. He feels that it would be
impossible to expect Harry to survive the destruction of all of the Horcruxes. The more that
he can destroy himself, before Harry faces his quest head on, the better. And Dumbledore still
does not know how many there are.
His aim is to protect Harry, teach him everything he can, and bring down Voldemort.
Everything else must exist in service of those goals, and everyone must be willing to
adhere to them, regardless of the cost. Snape agrees to Dumbledore's demands of him. He does
respect the Headmaster, and he does see the need for Voldemort to be stopped. He, like
Dumbledore, sees the escalation of events and the danger. He hates Harry; he hates Harry's
importance in the Wizarding World - the acclaim that has been Harry's since he was a child.
Being compelled to continue to protect him is a hard pill to swallow, but Snape does it. However,
he takes sadistic pleasure in making things as hard for Harry as possible. He is torn - at
times, his own anger and jealousy get the best of him, and he cannot resist the urge to torment
James' son. He enjoys depriving Harry of the things that mean the most to him. He tells
himself that it is for the boy's own good - that he must be disciplined by someone, since
everyone else in the wizarding world seems to want to spoil and pamper him. He sees Harry's
life as charmed and blessed in a way his own never was, and he resents it to his core. Snape
is not a happy man. He is mistrusted by people on both sides of his double life. He doesn't
like children and the only joy he finds in teaching is to cause pain and fear. His life is a
subtle game of manipulation and survival. Like many miserable people, he finds the idea of
someone else finding success or happiness too much to bear, particularly if that person is
Harry Potter. Occasionally, Lily still looks at him through Harry's eyes, and on those rare
occasions, Snape controls his loathing. And he never speaks ill of Lily. He reserves his
insults and barbs for James, Sirius and Lupin, but Lily's memory must never be tarnished, even
for the pleasure of causing pain to Harry. This is important - why else would Snape not use
this obvious tactic to insult Harry? Lily was Muggleborn, a Gryffindor and married to one of
Snape's worst enemies. There is ample ammunition in these facts for Snape to have been making
rude and derogatory comments about Lily in Harry's hearing for the past six years. But he does
not. He must have some level of respect or affection for her, or her memory would be used to
torment Harry as James' is.
Dumbledore retrieves Harry, and secures his next stay with the Dursleys so that if anything
does happen to Albus this year, Harry will be safe until his seventeenth birthday. He also
takes the opportunity to call the Dursleys onto the carpet for their treatment of Harry over
the years. He speaks as though he will not see them again, which he realizes is a distinct
possibility. With Harry's help, he manages to get Horace Slughorn to agree to come to Hogwarts.
This is urgent, and a very important piece of the puzzle. Slughorn knows something about
those Horcruxes, and Dumbledore must find a way to get that information. Otherwise, he has no
idea what he is dealing with. He already knows of two Horcruxes, the Diary and the Ring - and
he suspects Nagini. The assorted memories he has collected suggest that there could be others.
How many more might there be? Slughorn must come to Hogwarts.
Meanwhile, Snape finds himself in the hysterical and hostile company of Narcissa and Bella.
Snape does know about the plan for Draco to kill Dumbledore - he is not bluffing. He has already
told Dumbledore about the plan, and about his suspicions that Voldemort will expect Snape himself
to carry out the deed in the end. Dumbledore has told him that Draco must be protected and
prevented from the fate that Snape so narrowly escaped himself. Snape remembers his own early
Death Eater days. Draco must be watched, for his own good, as well as Dumbledore's. Dumbledore
says that he, himself, must adhere to his own plans, which have already been set into motion, and
that his fate will sort itself out. There is no plan for Snape to murder Dumbledore on the
Astronomy Tower. However, there is an understanding that there is a major plot afoot, that
Snape's cover (and therefore his life), Draco's and his family's lives as well as Dumbledore's
life are all in danger. That Harry will be in very grave danger, as will the entire
cause of defeating Voldemort. They are both on their guard and playing the chessboard carefully.
Snape justifies his choices over the past several years to Bella. His reasoning is convincing,
because some of it is true, particularly the part about weighing his options and acting with care
after Voldemort's first fall. He twists and turns each fact to suit his explanations. Perhaps
he was, as some readers have suggested, at a convenient place to be able to claim credit among
the DE's for the Vance murder. At each turn, his choice has served his own needs, as well as
Dumbledore's, and given him an escape route, should he need it.
When Narcissa asks Snape to make an Unbreakable Vow, he thinks that he can easily do so without
danger. Narcissa is most concerned for Draco's safety. Snape believes that the Vow will ask
him to protect and help Draco. Though Narcissa says to Snape earlier that he could "do it"
instead of Draco, right before the Vow her words only indicate that she is seeking protection and
aid for Draco. He agrees easily to this. Protecting and helping Draco is exactly what
Dumbledore wants him to do. The Vow does not define that "help." Perhaps to "help" Draco is to
get him out from under the DE's and Voldemort. However, while the Vow is being spoken, Narcissa
asks something Snape did not anticipate - if Draco fails, Snape will commit the murder. This
unexpected twist causes the slight twitch of his hand, the hesitancy. How can he agree to this?
Quite simply, he doesn't intend to follow through on it. He decides in that moment that he will
take the Vow, maintain his cover and the trust of the DE's, protect Draco for as long as he can,
prevent the murder of Dumbledore if humanly possible, and then die himself, if and when the Vow
is deemed "unfulfilled."
How many times has Snape faced death, both as a DE and an Order member? Did he not stand a good
chance of being AK'ed by showing up two hours late to Voldemort's little graveside reunion? Even
if he were "Voldemort's man, through and through," he has no assurance that the Dark Lord would
believe him, or even give him a chance to explain. He could well have been tortured or killed
immediately. He went anyway. Has he not watched countless others lose their lives in service of
one side or the other of this war? Is he even remotely a happy man who enjoys life? Yes, he is
a Slytherin, and, as such, knows how to watch out for himself. But weren't many of the DE's who
have thrown themselves on the altar of sacrifice for Voldemort also Slytherins? It stands to
reason that a great number of the zealots we've met were a part of the Slytherin pureblood, Dark
Arts crowd. Yet they found a cause that they are willing to die for. What if Snape has simply
chosen a different cause than the others? Much like RAB? He isn't resolved to die, or resigned
to fate, but he knows that chances are good that he'll be killed by one side or the other. He
knows he's now in a treacherous minefield. But, like Dumbledore, he also knows that, though he
may not survive, he has to carry on his duty regardless of the outcome.
Having secured Slughorn's presence at Hogwarts, Dumbledore gives Snape his heart's desire: the
DADA position. Dumbledore knows the job is cursed and that this will most likely be Snape's last
year at Hogwarts. He sees no other choice, given the larger goals. Dumbledore feels the sand
running through the hourglass. With all the plans in motion, it's fair to say that Snape might
not be able to retain his cover after this year anyway. Snape is there to spy on Dumbledore.
If Dumbledore knows that he is not well, and that his dangers are only beginning, he may feel
that Snape will no longer need to teach at Hogwarts to be of use. Voldemort might remove him
anyway, should Dumbledore die. I think it might have been somewhere around here that Snape
confessed the Unbreakable Vow to Dumbledore. However, just what does Snape confess?
Even if Snape is working for Dumbledore, he might not have told him everything. He would know
that Dumbledore would probably forbid him from sacrificing himself. Either way, he told him at
least some part of the Vow, and I think Dumbledore gleaned much of the rest. How much does
Jo is very devious in how she writes the conversation between Harry and Dumbledore that might
touch on the Vow. When Harry shares what he heard while eavesdropping on Snape and Draco, Jo
gives us no actual dialogue to illustrate Harry's story.
"'Yes, Sir. I overheard them during Professor Slughorn's party... well, I followed them
Dumbledore listened to Harry's story with an impassive face. When Harry had finished he did
not speak for a few moments, then said, 'Thank you for telling me this, Harry, but I suggest
that you put it out of your mind. I do not think that it is of great importance.'"
So what was "Harry's story?" Harry must have told Dumbledore what he knew of the Vow. It stuck
with him enough that he had discussed it with Ron, and knew that an Unbreakable Vow was a big
deal. But Harry doesn't hear the contents of the Vow, other than the fact that it involves
Snape protecting Draco. And nothing that Dumbledore hears surprises him. In fact, Dumbledore
says that Harry might consider that Dumbledore "... understood more than you did." It's
one of the few times in the entire series that Dumbledore seems to be losing patience with Harry.
Does Dumbledore also understand the corner that Snape has painted himself into? He probably
understands it a lot better than Severus. Dumbledore doesn't say he knows more than Harry.
He says he understands more than Harry. Harry has a lot of facts - maybe almost as many
as Dumbledore. But he doesn't understand as much yet.
Hagrid's evidence after having overheard the conversation between Dumbledore and Snape tells us
a bit about the agreement between the two men. Dumbledore is clearly now asking something of
Snape that Snape doesn't want to do. I think this may be where the rest of the Unbreakable Vow
came out. Dumbledore probably figured it out, as the logical conclusion to the first two
conditions. He might even know that Snape plans to let the Vow do its work by breaking it.
Dumbledore reminds him of the promise he made earlier - to protect Harry, to protect Draco, and
to put the Order's cause first, whatever may come. I do not believe any plan was made to meet
on the Astronomy Tower for a rendezvous with an AK. It is largely up to Snape to try to stop
Malfoy from letting Death Eaters into Hogwarts, and to stop Malfoy from doing something that
he'll have to live with for the rest of his life. Malfoy's desperate attempts at murder during
the year must weigh heavily on Snape, knowing that any one of them could have landed Draco in
Azkaban or even have resulted in his death- certainly that outcome would constitute a
broken vow on Snape's part? I think Dumbledore is simply reminding Snape that he still has a
big job to fulfill, and that, like Harry, Snape may now be more important to the cause than
Dumbledore. He can sabotage Voldemort's plans and help Harry and the Order, even if he can no
longer spy. Snape must remember the larger goal, and serve it, whatever that might mean.
The principal task left for Dumbledore is to destroy as many Horcruxes as possible before one
of them destroys him. While he is certainly a very important force against Voldemort, it's
clear to Dumbledore that luck will turn against him, sooner or later. In fact, his very
greatness is what will bring his downfall: who else could survive encounters with so many
Horcruxes? The task of shortening the distance to victory for Harry must sit on Dumbledore's
strong but elderly shoulders. He is determined to find and destroy all the Horcruxes he can,
and there is no one better suited to the job. But he knows that he is failing, and that one or
more of the Horcruxes will eventually overcome even his powerful magic. He will not be around
to see Harry through to the end of the battle. This is why he is so keen to impart both useful
memories and the right perspective into Harry's mind immediately.
Snape is sensing the impending crisis. Draco is secretive and won't confide in him. Snape
sees in Draco both a young man of extreme privilege (very different from Snape's background)
and a young man who has gotten into a dangerous situation way over his head (very much like
Snape's early DE years). Snape is more in the dark than he wants to be, and doesn't have his
customary iron grip of control over the situation. The idea of dying was one thing when
Narcissa asked for the vow. At that moment, he was tired and discouraged, and felt useless and
weary of life. But waiting, every day, wondering if he'll slip up and fail - wondering if,
suddenly, without warning, he'll just drop dead - it's getting under his skin. And there is
Harry, constantly in his face, "The Chosen One." Lily's words ring in his ears and she
constantly stares out at him from Harry's eyes.
We hear about Draco's celebration in the Room of Requirement, because of Harry's run-in with
Trelawney outside the room. But Snape isn't around. Snape is, evidently, in his rooms, unaware
that Draco has succeeded and that the DE's will be on their way to Hogwarts. Dumbledore and
Harry head off to the cave, Horcrux hunting. Before they leave, they have a conversation that
is telling. Dumbledore secures a promise from Harry that Harry will obey him no matter what
happens. That Harry will run, hide, and even leave Dumbledore behind if he is ordered to.
Something Harry doesn't want to do - just like there was something Snape didn't want to do...
Something that Dumbledore firmly reminded him he had promised. In this case, Dumbledore doesn't
know exactly what awaits them in the cave, but he knows that Harry must survive it. The
promises he extracts would cover a variety of situations that may arise, but the end result is
the same - Dumbledore charges Harry to put his own safety and the greater cause first, and
sacrifice Dumbledore if necessary. If necessary. The same condition that Narcissa
places on Snape as a part of their Unbreakable Vow. And, I believe, the same conditions that
Lily and Dumbledore put on Snape, lo those many years ago. Snape is desperately trying to
prevent these actions from becoming necessary. However, this is becoming an impossible task,
as neither of his young charges trusts him in the least. He is always in the dark, yet he has
made agreements to prioritize Harry's and Draco's safety above all others, including Dumbledore's.
Several times during the adventure in the cave, Dumbledore mentions that he is not nearly so
important as Harry: "...your blood is worth more than mine..." "...I am much older, much
cleverer, and much less valuable." He is careful to take all the risks himself, putting
Harry in as little danger as possible, given the circumstances. Does Dumbledore feel the same
way about Snape? He has kept Snape safely at Hogwarts all year, and has avoided telling Snape
about the Horcruxes, which would put him in further danger. And Dumbledore knows that no one -
no one- is better suited to protect Harry. Snape must protect Harry because of
his Vow and Snape will have access to plans and information that those who love Harry will
simply not know about, because they are not Death Eaters.
Harry gets the Headmaster safely back to Hogsmeade. Before seeing the Dark Mark over the Tower,
Dumbledore keeps saying he needs Severus. Only Snape might be able to help him, and time is
running out. Again, it's Snape's knowledge of the Dark Arts that is useful. If it weren't for
the Dark Mark, Draco, and the scene that followed, Dumbledore would seek Snape, and a
cure for his dire condition. The Dark Mark changes everything. Dumbledore freely puts his own
welfare aside to come to the aid and defense of Hogwarts, though he may well be dying and have
little time left. Clearly, there are worse things than dying, in Dumbledore's opinion.
And one of them is to let Hogwarts fall to Death Eaters.
Professor Flitwick is sent by McGonagall from the battle to alert Snape. In fact, if everything
had gone according to Draco's plan that night, Snape would never have been there. This supports
the idea that Snape and Dumbledore did not have a particular plan in mind that was carefully
enacted on the Astronomy Tower. In fact, Snape was not supposed to be there at all, and Snape
was, evidently, also unaware that Dumbledore might need his help upon returning to the castle.
Hermione and Luna are watching the office. They hear a thump. Snape comes out and sees them,
tells them Flitwick passed out and that they should stay with him. Hermione says that Snape
must have Stupefied Flitwick, but this isn't ever confirmed by Flitwick himself. However,
something caused him to suddenly fall to the ground, and we've never seen Flitwick faint before.
Perhaps Snape knows that he is going to meet up with Draco, who may already be hurt or in
trouble. He wants to keep as many people as possible out of the fray and so shoots a
non-verbal at Flitwick. He also sends the two girls in to help Flitwick. Snape isn't
protecting Flitwick, Hermione and Luna from the battle. He's protecting Draco from more people
who will try to harm or capture him if they catch him fighting against the Order. Snape is
fulfilling his Vow to Narcissa. He also wants as few witnesses as possible. If he can manage
to pull Draco out of here without losing his cover, he buys more time to find a solution to his
quandary. Snape doesn't hurt Flitwick, nor does he harm Luna or Hermione. He gets them out of
Now Snape comes upon the Order and the DE's fighting. However, he doesn't see Draco. Perhaps
he knows that Dumbledore was going somewhere tonight, on his own ongoing mission. Maybe he
even knows Harry is with him. At this point, Snape thinks that Dumbledore is safely away. He
needs only to get Draco out of harm's way. He doesn't join in to fight for either side, but
stays on task as he has promised - find and protect Draco, try to save the situation and save
Then he goes through the charm on the door (I think Harry's right - you need a Dark Mark to get
through that door). He gets to the Tower and sees the scenario: Dumbledore, slumped against
the parapet, barely standing, gravely ill or injured; Draco, pale and trembling, holding his
wand but doing nothing; rabid DE's all around, waiting to pounce - and two brooms. If Draco
could spot that second broom on top of the Tower, I think Snape would.
He hears his name, strides over to Dumbledore, and gazes for a moment at the Headmaster. Snape
and Dumbledore are both highly accomplished at Legilimency. If they were working together, it
would take only a moment to share whatever they wanted to share with each other. Dumbledore
reminds Snape of his promise, that he must protect Harry, Draco and the larger cause; he conveys
to Snape how desperately ill he is, and Snape can see that he can't even try to help the
Headmaster in front of these witnesses. He knows Harry is there. His Vows to protect Harry
and Draco would be unfulfilled if he allows either of them to be hurt or captured. If he
doesn't kill Dumbledore, his Vow to Narcissa will be unfulfilled. Either way, he'll die. And
what would happen then? One of the other DE's would surely kill the wandless, flagging
Dumbledore. Perhaps Harry would be discovered. Draco would be dragged off to Voldemort for
punishment. Snape would die from his unfulfilled Vows. And Dumbledore would still be dead.
So, this is it - not a scenario either Dumbledore or Snape had planned or wanted. But, given
their mutual goals and responsibilities, with each of them following the course they must
follow, this is where they were led. Now, there is only one choice - Dumbledore is dying, will
die, from the Potion. I think he is fairly sure of this when he drinks it. He trusts in Snape
and his abilities to thwart Dark Magic. But things didn't work out as Dumbledore planned upon
Apparating back from the cave. If Severus had gotten to him immediately, if he were alone and
able to work the magic we saw him work on Draco in the bathroom after Harry's Sectumsempra...
But it is not to be. There is no opportunity for such an intervention. Not without sacrificing
Snape's cover and possibly his life, along with Draco - who needs more protection than ever.
And Harry is very vulnerable frozen under his cloak. Through a moment of Legilimency, Dumbledore
reminds Snape of his promise - protect Draco, put the Order's cause first, and protect Harry.
Snape is enraged and full of revulsion. He is painted into a corner. Protect Dumbledore, and
die with him (and Draco, and Narcissa, and Lucius, and probably Harry...) or kill Dumbledore,
give the Malfoys a chance, get everyone away from Harry, and remain in the confidence of
Voldemort, where he can work to sabotage. He cannot think of another option and for a brief
moment, he is tempted to let everyone die. Dumbledore begs him not to give in to what is easy
- giving up - but to be strong and loyal to the cause he agreed to fight for. He hates this
position, hates Dumbledore for letting it come to this. He chooses AK because he is incensed
and livid - and perhaps because it is quick and has always seemed relatively painless. We
always see a victim with a slightly surprised look on his face, but nothing else. If he is to
fulfill his promise to Dumbledore, what else can he do? What excuse could he make for NOT
killing Dumbledore at that moment, without losing everything, including his life, and the chance
of getting everyone off that Tower without Harry getting caught?
As we have discussed before, Harry's reaction to feeding Dumbledore the potion is almost
identical to Snape, just before the Avada Kedavra:
"Hating himself, repulsed by what he was doing, Harry forced the goblet back toward
Dumbledore's mouth and tipped it, so that Dumbledore drank the remainder of the potion inside."
"Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in
the harsh lines of his face."
Jo tells us Harry's feelings directly - Harry hates himself. She doesn't tell us what
Harry's face would look like to an outsider. In turn, she tells us what Snape's face looks like
to Harry, but not what he, himself, is feeling. Is Snape's hatred also for himself?
Snape fires off the AK. The force of it, filled with years of anger, resentment and strain,
lifts the fragile Headmaster right off his feet.
Snape flees, making sure to get Draco out safely. He stops Harry from doing any damage, shoots
off his insults or instructions, depending on how you look at it. When Snape shouts, "No
Unforgivable Curses from you, Potter!" he may be referring to the fact that this is not how
Dumbledore (or Lily) would want Harry to behave. That Harry must take a different path.
Whether or not Snape fully understands the truth of his statement, I don't know. But I think
he is correct. Unforgivables are not the road to success for Harry. Snape uses his customary,
snide sneer when he says it. Can you not see Snape, eaten alive by the fact that he just
had to use an Unforgivable, but precious Harry Potter is too special to be allowed to use
Finally, the exchange with Harry, the anger, the pain can all be explained by the idea that
this was not planned, AND it was not something Snape wanted to do. It is also something that
no one will forgive him for, nor will they believe that he could possibly have had good
intentions towards Dumbledore, the Order or their cause. He's not even certain it was
the right decision. Was there another option? Was Dumbledore trying to convey something else?
He feels bamboozled by Dumbledore. How will he protect Draco now, and protect Harry?
Dumbledore took the exit that was supposed to have been Snape's and now Snape has to try to live
with the brand of Judas. He is livid, unsure and very, very resentful of Harry.
He saves Harry from attack, screams his now famous, pained line, "DON'T call me coward!"
and then flees, still bound by the Vow to protect Draco, uncertain if he made the right choice
or not, and having just eliminated many of his options for the foreseeable future.