What Was Dumbledore Plotting? – Part 2: Harry as a Horcrux and the Accident of Snape’s Death
In anticipation of the upcoming release of the third edition of The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, hpboy13 and I have been engaging in some friendly debate about his book that we wanted to share with the readers of the Three Broomsticks. The first essay, published yesterday, was about whether Dumbledore intended Snape to have the Elder Wand and whether he wanted Harry to hunt for the Deathly Hallows. This essay will unpack why Dumbledore kept the knowledge of Harry being a Horcrux from him and whether or not Dumbledore told Snape about the Elder Wand. We would love for the debate to continue, so please share your thoughts in the comments.
In our debate, we realized that the main crux of our disagreement relied on our differing interpretations of how discomposed Harry would be about the knowledge of his impending sacrifice. While you said that Dumbledore’s reason for not telling Harry he was a Horcrux was unrealistic because Harry had proved time and time again that he would be willing to make those types of sacrifices, I think that Dumbledore’s claim has some merit. Although Harry has certainly proved himself, Harry is not the only person necessary for the Horcrux journey. Dumbledore wants Ron and Hermione to help him out, and even if Harry might be capable of carrying on with that knowledge, I don’t think that Ron and Hermione would be willing to help Harry along the path to meet his death. I’m not sure if Harry would be able to keep that information from them, at least not without being forced to carry a significant additional burden all by himself. The three of them have a hard enough time sticking together and not falling into despair without the knowledge of Harry’s sacrifice. Harry spends enough time feeling resentful and betrayed by Dumbledore even without knowing that Dumbledore has been raising him “like a pig for slaughter” (DH 687). Harry might be able to handle it but certainly not easily. Yes, for the game plan, this may not be enough of an incentive for Dumbledore to keep the information from Harry, but as you said, Dumbledore does have a tendency to procrastinate Harry’s pain. In my interpretation, however, this procrastination comes in the form of giving Harry limited information about his eventual sacrifice rather than sending him on a wild goose chase for the Hallows.
More importantly, though, knowing that every Horcrux Harry destroyed was leading him one step closer to his death would not be much of an incentive to destroy the Horcruxes quickly. And opposite to what you argued, I think that Dumbledore did want Harry to destroy them quickly because Dumbledore has a ticking time bomb in the form of Snape. As soon as Voldemort tracks down the Elder Wand, Snape will lose his spot as Voldemort’s right-hand man. He will either die (if he doesn’t have the Wand) or be able to defend himself and run away (if he does have the Wand). Or worst-case scenario, Voldemort might win the Wand from him. No matter what happens, Snape will no longer be able to protect the students of Hogwarts or continue to pass information about Voldemort’s movements to Dumbledore’s portrait. Dumbledore wants Harry to be able to destroy the Horcruxes as soon as possible, and that is unlikely to happen if Harry knows that doing so will lead to his own death.
Why, then, does Dumbledore give Snape such strange instructions about when to inform Harry of his Horcrux status? He says, “If there comes a time when Lord Voldemort stops sending that snake forth to do his bidding, but keeps it safe beside him under magical protection, then, I think, it will be safe to tell Harry” (DH 686). All that can really be known from Voldemort keeping Nagini safe is that he has figured out that Harry is hunting Horcruxes. This could happen at any point in Harry’s Horcrux journey, but when it does, it will cause an almost insurmountable hurdle for Harry to overcome. Voldemort, at this point, will probably double the protections on all his Horcruxes and maybe even start to make some new ones. He will be freaking out trying to hunt down Harry and will also be trying even harder to find the Elder Wand. This means that Harry’s timeline for Horcrux hunting will grow longer, and Snape’s timeline for staying alive will shrink significantly. Snape, then, needs to abandon everything and find Harry before he or Harry gets killed. Once he finds Harry (which he has proven himself to be clever enough to do by passing on the sword of Gryffindor), he will be able to give Harry the information about being a Horcrux and possibly even help Harry with the new magical enchantments that Voldemort is sure to use to protect his Horcruxes. He will also be out of reach of Voldemort’s wrath. If, by chance, Nagini dies first, then Snape will know that Nagini is important and will go talk to Dumbledore’s portrait, which will tell him to go ahead and inform Harry he needs to sacrifice himself. As you said, as soon as Nagini dies, Voldemort will realize Harry is hunting Horcruxes, which will put into place the plan I mentioned above.
The truth is that Harry knowing that he is a Horcrux is an important part of the endgame plan, but it isn’t necessarily the most crucial part. It’s true that Harry’s sacrifice does provide protection to other people, but I doubt that Dumbledore could have been certain about the nature of that magic and whether it would definitely occur. In addition, Harry knowing about being a Horcrux too early could be a huge detriment to the plan because it could cause him to take longer than necessary to find the Horcruxes. I think that Dumbledore decided to take the risk that the magical sacrifice might not work in order to focus on making sure that Harry could destroy the Horcruxes.
In fact, the real flaw in Dumbledore’s plan is not that he didn’t warn Harry that his death was imminent but that he didn’t warn Snape in time about the Elder Wand. You seemed to be making the assumption that Dumbledore had told Snape about the Elder Wand, but I’m inclined to think he did not. If he had, then Snape would never have died. Snape would have known that Voldemort would come after him eventually, so when Voldemort visited the Hogwarts grounds and told Snape to leave him, Snape would have been able to guess that Voldemort was planning to break into Dumbledore’s tomb. As it is, Snape probably didn’t view Voldemort’s visit to the grounds as important enough to even inform Dumbledore’s portrait – and therefore, Dumbledore’s portrait wasn’t able to inform Snape that he was in imminent danger. If Snape had known that, he never would have agreed to Lucius’s summons to his master. Snape is not stupid enough to walk right into Voldemort’s hands when he still hadn’t delivered his information to Harry. It’s not likely that he was going to the Shrieking Shack just to check if Voldemort was protecting Nagini (Nagini is in the silvery orb? All right, I can go tell Harry now). In fact, I believe Snape was planning to tell Harry about being a Horcrux before the Battle of Hogwarts even started. When Voldemort tells Snape that Harry may attempt to return to the school, I am sure that Dumbledore’s portrait must have guessed not only that was there a Horcrux hidden at Hogwarts but also that Voldemort knew Harry was hunting Horcruxes. He would have told Snape to try to find Harry and share the Horcrux information immediately (which Snape attempts to do before being unceremoniously sacked). If Snape had known that Voldemort had the Elder Wand and what that meant for his own mortality, then Snape would have used every shred of his considerable powers to stay away from Voldemort. Snape’s death was entirely unnecessary.
We can see some evidence of this in Snape’s death scene. Snape knows Voldemort well enough to be worried from the beginning of their conversation, but he is clearly confused. He is in a highly stressful situation, realizing for the first time that Nagini is in her magical protection, trying to figure out how to extricate himself from the conversation, and also trying to figure out what Voldemort’s long, rambling musings about wands have to do with him. Although I believe that Voldemort was being secretive about his ownership of the Elder Wand before the Battle of Hogwarts, by the time the Battle begins, it appears that his Death Eaters know about his ownership of it (and this would be a good strategic move for Voldemort to increase morale). Voldemort shows Snape the Wand and asks, without any explanation, “Why doesn’t it work for me, Severus?” Snape responds by saying, “You have performed extraordinary magic with that wand.” In Voldemort’s response, he says, “It has not revealed the wonders it has promised,” but he does not explain to Snape why he thinks this wand would be special (DH 653). This, combined with the fact that Snape already seems to be aware that Voldemort has a new wand and has watched him use it, makes me think that Snape knows that this is the Elder Wand (or at least that it’s a wand that is supposed to have extraordinary powers). If Snape knew Voldemort had the Wand before this conversation, it seems even more unlikely that he would have gone to the Shrieking Shack if he also knew that Voldemort had reason to believe that he (Snape) was the master of it. Instead, we see the exact moment when Snape, already anxious, finally realizes what he’s up against:
‘I sought a third wand, Severus. The Elder Wand, the Wand of Destiny, the Deathstick. I took it from its previous master. I took it from the grave of Albus Dumbledore.’
And now Snape looked at Voldemort, and Snape’s face was like a death mask. It was marble white and so still that when he spoke, it was a shock to see that anyone lived behind the blank eyes.” (DH 655)
To me, the wording of this description makes it clear that although he might have suspected that he was in trouble, it isn’t until Snape hears where Voldemort got the Wand from that he knows for certain that he’s about to die. Although he previously attempted to participate in Voldemort’s conversation, he throws away all pretenses now and immediately says, “My Lord – let me go to the boy – ” (DH 655).
Why, then, didn’t Dumbledore tell Snape about the Elder Wand? Probably for the same reason that he didn’t tell Harry he was a Horcrux. If Dumbledore had told Snape before his death, then Snape wouldn’t have wanted to kill him. If his portrait had told Snape afterward, then there was the risk of Snape’s trust completely evaporating and his giving up on the vitally important tasks he still had left to do. I believe that Dumbledore’s portrait was waiting for the last possible moment before telling Snape about the Wand and warning him to run away. However, the portrait did not bargain on the last Horcrux being hidden at Hogwarts, which led Harry to break in, Snape to be sacked by his colleagues, Voldemort to attack, and a full-scale war to break out overnight. Snape never returned to the headmaster’s office, so the portrait was never able to warn him to stay away from Voldemort at all costs.