What Took So Long?

by Kim and Ryan Phoenix

One of the most mysterious characters in the HP books is Professor Severus Snape. It is very difficult for the reader to discern whether Snape’’s loyalties lie with Dumbledore and the Order or Voldemort and his Death Eaters. There seems to be evidence for both arguments. I would like to examine a scenario where Professor Snape’’s choices may point to the dark side.

This scenario looks at the timing regarding Harry’’s vision of Sirius being tortured in the Department of Mysteries and the arrival of the Order members at the DoM. I would like to build a timeline of the events. If my timeline is correct, or anywhere near correct, it took Snape almost seven hours to notify the Order of Harry’’s vision.

Let’’s start with the History of Magic O.W.L.: page 724 tells us that the O.W.L. exam begins at 2 in the afternoon. Harry works on his exam until he has the vision. On page 732, while Harry is relaying the vision to Ron and Hermione, Hermione states, “”it’’s five o’clock in the afternoon…the Ministry of Magic must be full of workers…how would Voldemort and Sirius have got in without being seen?””

Therefore, we can assume it’’s around 5 in the evening when the plan to distract Umbridge is formulated. Umbridge catches Harry in the fire and asks the Inquisitorial Squad to fetch Professor Snape. Snape arrives and Harry makes the desperate statement, “”He’’s got Padfoot. He’’s got Padfoot in the place where it’’s hidden.”” Granted, I don’t have text to support me in this assumption, but it’’s reasonable to deduce that Harry’’s statement to Snape occurred within about an hour and a half of the time Harry and company began formulating their plan to contact Sirius at Grimmauld Place. Therefore, Snape is notified that Harry has had a vision around 6:30 p.m.

After Grawp has chased away the Centaurs, Harry and Hermione are trying to figure out what to do when Ginny, Neville, Ron, and Luna appear in the forest. Page 765 states that Harry looks into a “bloodred sunset” when he’’s taking off on the back of his thestral. The sun sets in early June around 9:15 p.m. in England, so the “bloodred sunset” would have been seen around 8:30 p.m., while the sun is setting. We don’’t have text to tell us exactly what time Harry and company arrive at the Ministry, however, page 766 states that twilight fell while Harry and company were flying on the thestrals and it was only the lights of Muggle towns that gave them any clue how far from the ground they were. It must have been later than 9:15 p.m. when they arrived at the Ministry since the sun had fully set while they were flying. For the purposes of a concrete timeline to use in this editorial, I am guessing that the flight to London took two hours or less. That puts Harry and company arriving at the Ministry of Magic around 10:30 p.m.

My guesstimates are that Harry and company fight the Death Eaters for about three hours before the Order members arrive. The Order/Death Eater duels plus Dumbledore and Voldemort’’s duel lasted a total of two to three hours. That means that the Order members arrive to rescue the others around 1:30 a.m. I’’ve based this upon the fact that when Harry arrives back in Dumbledore’s office the portrait of Phineas Nigellus says to Harry, “And what brings you here in the early hours of the morning?” It sounds like Harry’’s arrived back in Dumbledore’s office around 4 a.m. When Dumbledore arrives back in his office, the sun is rising. Sunrise in early June occurs around 5:15 a.m. in England.

If you have a better way to estimate the timeline, please let me know. I am open for suggestions and would appreciate your input.

Dumbledore says to Harry that Snape notified the Order about what Harry had said, “”as soon as possible”” (pg. 833). Dumbledore also explains that when Snape made contact, Sirius, Lupin, Tonks, and Moody were at Headquarters and immediately agreed to come to Harry’s aid in the Department of Mysteries. I can’’t imagine that it took more than thirty minutes for the Order members to get to the Ministry – they can Apparate after all.

My reason for drawing this timeline is to point out that Snape was alerted by Harry around 6:30 p.m.; however, the Order members did not arrive at the DoM until around 1:30 a.m. according to my guess. They were not notified of a problem until about 1 a.m. Why did it take Snape almost seven hours to notify the Order? Did Snape really believe that Harry was safely touring the forest with Umbridge until 1 in the morning? This just doesn’’t add up.

At this point in OotP, Snape is the only known member of the Order still left at Hogwarts. Surely, Snape has been charged with keeping an eye on things, especially considering the fact that Dumbledore is worried that Voldemort will break into Harry’’s mind.

Snape is fully aware of the possibility that Voldemort could attempt to break into Harry’’s mind – Snape is teaching Harry Occlumency in order to prevent this from happening. Snape is not a stupid man. I think it is highly possible Snape deduced that Harry had a vision when Harry made his desperate statement in Umbridge’’s office. Snape knows Harry’s “saving people” tendencies and Harry’’s history of breaking rules. Dumbledore tells Harry that Snape deduced where Harry and company had gone when they did not return from the Forbidden Forest (pg. 833).

How long is a logical time period for Harry to return from the forest? Keep in mind that Snape is already on the alert. The Forbidden Forest is a dangerous place itself. Granted, Snape saw Harry enter the forest with Umbridge and Hermione. After two or three hours, Snape should have known something was wrong. Why would he wait four or five additional hours before notifying the Order? I can think of only a few possibilities why Snape waited so long to notify the Order:

  1. Snape was afraid that Voldemort would find out that it was Snape who notified the Order. Voldemort might understand Snape being forced to notify the Order considering Snape’s double agent role, but if Snape notified the Order early on, Voldemort might feel that Snape was attempting to sabotage Voldemort’s plans. However, I don’t think that this possibility is a likely one. Voldemort is not fully aware of all of the methods of communication used by Order members. From Voldemort’s’ perspective, the Order could have found out about the battle at the DoM in many ways. There could have been another Order member at Hogwarts that notified the Order. Harry could have had some other means of communication with the Order such as the two-way mirror which Harry shares with Sirius. (I know that Voldemort is not aware of the two-way mirror – this is just used as an example form of communication.) It doesn’’t seem logical for Voldemort to automatically suspect Snape.
  2. Another possibility is that something or someone at Hogwarts detained Snape from notifying the Order members. However, this seems unlikely since Umbridge is in the forest. Dumbledore’’s belief that Snape notified the Order “as soon as possible” indicates that Dumbledore believes Snape took action as soon as he could. Maybe there is a reasonable explanation or maybe Snape invented an explanation to feed to Dumbledore. Who or what at Hogwarts could have caused such a long delay considering the fact that Umbridge was not involved?

    Possibly, after Ginny, Ron, Neville, and Luna’s escape from the Inquisitorial Squad, the Squad needed some assistance to remove the jinxes that had been placed upon them and Snape took them to the hospital wing. Escorting students to the hospital wing could not have taken four of five hours…unless Snape wanted to take his time. And if Snape did assist the Inquisitorial Squad in some way, shouldn’’t this have raised his alert level even higher regarding Harry’s whereabouts? Whether Snape assisted the Inquisitorial Squad or not, we don’’t have any text to allow for a firm conclusion.

  3. A third possibility is that Snape is truly serving the dark side. Maybe Snape wanted to give the Death Eaters in the DoM plenty of time to obtain the prophecy and harm Harry. Even if Snape is loyal to the dark side, Snape would have to notify the Order at some point or else Dumbledore would have been highly suspicious and Snape would have jeopardized his role as double agent for Voldemort.

    I cannot imagine why Snape would have waited seven hours before raising the alert with the Order members. What reasons could possibly exist that don’t point to the dark side? Maybe this is one of JKR’’s clues that are so artfully hidden in the books. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. You can email me at kimberlyandryanp at msn dot com.

I found the questions addressed in this editorial quite intriguing and I appreciate your taking the time to explore them with me. None of the evidence in the book, including the evidence presented in this editorial, can conclusively prove whether Snape’’s loyalties lie with the good side or the dark side. But it sure is fun to speculate.