Pottermore: Day 6 Hints

Well, there was a bit of trouble with the Magic Quill for a second day in a row! And yet, Pottermore Insider has chosen to post significant advance warning for the time windows in which Clues 6 and 7 will appear.

Day 6 and Day 7 Time Window

In the UK, the clues will arrive on Friday afternoon and early Saturday morning. In the Western Hemisphere, the clues will arrive on Friday morning and Friday night.

There is, I believe, a maximum of of 13.5 hours between the times the start time of each clue. So tomorrow is going to be a very big, and very hectic, day.

Questions I’ve been asked

Before we get on with possibilities for clues on Day 6, let me answer a few questions that I’ve paraphrased from the Comments section:

Q. Do you have inside information on the clue?

A. No. Aside from information that comes from the Pottermore Insider website, everything I say about clues is speculation.

Let me add: the reason I’m doing this is that I got in to Pottermore on Day 1, thanks to some great help from people on the Chamber of Secrets forum. I am just trying to return the favor out here on the Web and to help other people navigate the whole registration process for early access into Pottermore.

Q. What is the answer to the clue?(usually asked frantically, while the clue is live)

A. Even though I’m not giving answers personally (my job is to help people prepare for the clues and understand the process for getting in to the Beta test group at Pottermore), I do know some places you can go to get help with the clue.

One place you might look is in the Chamber of Secrets forum, on the last page of the Pottermore thread. It’s a good forum, with smart people who are willing to help out. The only drawback is that most of the people on Chamber of Secrets who want early Pottermore access have already successfully completed the challenge. So the traffic on the Pottermore thread seems to be dying down a bit.

But more help is on the way…

Here is a repeat posting here a helpful note that Jess (the Last Muggle) wrote in the comments to an earlier post:

I’ve been telling folks who are interested in registering and haven’t had success yet to follow hp_batsignal on Twitter and set it up for only those tweets to come to your phone. Today, I received a tweet with when the clue went live and a follow-up tweet with the answer.

That’s one way for fans to save themselves a sleepless night at the computer. :-)

Now, without further ado, here are my suggestions for…

Some Possible Day 6 Clues

The next book is Half-Blood Prince (HBP). But if the clues are going to remain super-easy – as they have for the past couple of days – then here are the most obvious numbers I can think of:

  • At what age are students allowed to get their license to apparate?
  • Into how many pieces does Tom Riddle intend to split his soul? (or, to word it another way… what is the number of horcruxes Riddle mentions in Slughorn’s untampered memory?)
  • How many Death Eaters come through the Vanishing Cabinet into Hogwarts on the night Dumbledore is killed?
  • What is the number of the chapter in which Snape kills Dumbledore?
  • What is the number of the chapter for Dumbledore’s funeral?
  • Probably too difficult: how many memories does Dumbledore share with Harry?

In one of the earlier rounds, you needed a chapter number, so I added the chapter number clues, just in case.

So, does anyone else have additional suggestions for numbers to focus on? If so, please share them in the Comments thread. Oh, and here’s a good breakdown to refresh your memory of HBP.

Based on the already-established pattern (7 books * number of days/chances remaining), once you have the solution to the clue, the number you will multiply by is 14… except, of course, in the unlikely chance that Pottermore breaks the pattern!

For those who are still working at getting early access into Pottermore: Good luck on the Day 6 Clue!

I do intend to live blog the 6th Clue. See you then.

Note about the Comments thread: If you’re new to the blog and have never commented before, there may be a small delay in getting your comment posted.

‘I Won’t Blow Up the House!’

On Dudley Dursley’s birthday, the unthinkable happens. Arabella Figg – the crazy old cat lady Harry gets dumped on every time Dudley has a birthday – breaks her leg, and the Dursleys have to figure out what to do with Harry. When the boy suggests just letting him stay home, Uncle Vernon protests that he does not want to come back to find the house in “ruins.”

“I won’t blow up the house,” replies Harry.

The Ruined House

Sounds like the typical parent/guardian exchange with t(w)eens, doesn’t it? But this is actually that rare, almost non-existent, occasion when there appears to be some factual basis for Dursley fears. Dumbledore apparently told the Dursleys in his letter dated 10 years earlier about the condition of the Potters’ home after Voldemort came calling.

As Hagrid told Dumbledore at that time, the “house was almost destroyed,” and (as he later tells Harry) he took the boy from the “ruined house” himself. Aunt Petunia certainly knows that her sister “went and got herself blown up.” So it is with some bit of authentic, fact-based fear, perhaps, that Uncle Vernon mentions “ruins” when he thinks of Harry being left alone in the house while the family celebrates Dudley’s birthday at the zoo.

All Harry remembers of the You-Know-Who incident, though, is contained in a recurring dream about a flying motorcycle and the memory of a flash of green light from the “car crash”:

Sometimes, when he strained his memory during long hours in his cupboard, he came up with a strange vision: a blinding flash of green light and a burning pain on his forehead. This, he supposed, was the car crash, though he couldn’t imagine where all the green light came from.

(Well, Harry, that would actually be an Avada Kedavra curse, Voldemort’s signature spell. But you aren’t going to learn anything about the Unforgivables for four more years!)

Wandless Magic

Though the Dursleys may well have images of real ruins in mind when they talk about not wanting to leave Harry alone in the house, they seem more afraid of the random “strange things” that happen around the boy. Wizarding children have magical abilities, with or without a wand. The wand helps them learn to control and channel their magic, but being gifted with magic is not dependent on the wand.

Under various forms of stress, Harry has already caused his hair to grow back overnight from a bad haircut, caused a hated sweater to shrink while Aunt Petunia tried to force it on him, and even found himself on the roof of the school kitchens while attempting to escape from Dudley’s gang.

(Wandless magic plays a role throughout the series, but nowhere more strongly than in DH, where we learn of the wandless magic performed by young Lily Evans (Harry’s mother), her childhood friend Severus Snape, and Dumbledore’s own sister, Ariana. Ariana Dumbledore provides the tragic example of a Wizarding child who pays the price for being unable to control her magic.)

The Parselmouth

Then, there’s the event in the reptile house, from which this chapter takes its title. The Dursleys do end up taking Harry to the zoo (better than having him blow up the house, I suppose!), and after Dudley unsuccessfully tries to force his Muggle father to get a sleeping Boa Constrictor to “do something,” the snake initiates an interaction with Harry. First it winks, then it nods, then it gestures with its tail. In the course of this interaction, Harry starts talking to the snake. And the snake understands him.

On first reading, this seems like just another example of Harry’s wandless magic. And this possibility is underscored by the fact that when Dudley punches Harry, something more typically magical happens – the glass to the cage disappears, and the snake escapes. But as the snake leaves, it speaks to Harry in a “low, hissing voice” – and just as the snake understood Harry, Harry understands the snake.

Harry is a Parselmouth – a natural speaker of Parseltongue, the language of snakes. This is no ordinary magical power, and it is not typical of children’s wandless magic. In HBP, when Dumbledore teaches Voldemort’s history to Harry, he shows one memory in which an 11-year-old Tom Riddle (later Voldemort) reveals to the adult Dumbledore:

I can speak to snakes…. they find me, they whisper to me.

Dumbledore does not let on, but he is clearly taken aback by this revelation. Parseltongue is a language associated with Salazar Slytherin, founder of Slytherin House at Hogwarts, the House that values pure Wizard blood. Additionally, when Harry reveals his Parseltongue capabilities during the Duelling Club segment of CoS, his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger tell Harry that this is a bad thing – that Parseltongue is generally associated with Dark Magic, and that You-Know-Who himself is a Parselmouth.

And speaking of You-Know-Who… notice that just as the Boa in the reptile house initiates contact with Harry, so young Riddle tells Dumbledore that the snakes “find” him. Apparently, snakes can innately tell if a Wizard is a Parselmouth… and seek such Wizards out.

The Parselmouth motif becomes increasingly important throughout the series, as Dumbledore pieces together the connections between Harry and the wicked Wizard who tried to kill him. But at this point in the story, the snake incident looks like just a throw-away magic event, another neat magical thing Harry can do. Which makes “The Vanishing Glass” a wonderful early instance of Rowling’s talent for misdirection.

Reactions and Comments?
Let’s get this party started!

  • How justified do you think the Dursleys’ fears of Harry are?
  • What was your reaction the first time you read of Harry’s unconscious, wandless magical abilities? What is your reaction now?
  • On first reading, how did you feel about Harry’s ability to talk to snakes? Has your feeling changes since then?
  • Is there anything else you feel like commenting on?

Next time, from Chapter 3:

‘The Flight of the Dursleys’ … in which we discuss the strange letter(s) addressed to Harry… and the Dursleys’ even stranger behavior surrounding them.

‘The Abandoned Boys’

One of the most poignant moments in the entire Harry Potter series occurs as Harry walks into the Forbidden Forest at the end of Deathly Hallows to meet his fate at the hands of Lord Voldemort. Hiding under his cloak of invisibility, he overhears a wounded girl whispering for her mother and telling Ginny that she wants to “go home.”

Harry has seen the memories. He now knows Snape’s loyalties. He knows Dumbledore’s plan. He intends to die. And all he can think is that…

He wanted to shout out to the night, he wanted Ginny to know he was there, he wanted her to know where he was going. He wanted to be stopped, he wanted to be dragged back, to be sent back home…

But he was home. Hogwarts was the first and best home he had ever known. He and Voldemort and Snape, the abandoned boys, had all found home here…

I don’t know that there’s any more remarkable statement in the entire series than that final sentence. Something happens in the Pensieve that gives Harry compassion, that helps him identify… not only with Severus Snape, but even with Voldemort himself.

When Harry first discovered that Tom Riddle’s mother died about an hour after giving birth, he was so stunned that Dumbledore asked if he could “possbly be feeling sorry for Lord Voldemort.” Harry denied any empathy.

When Harry dipped his face into the Pensieve to view the memories the hated Potions Master had left him, he did so with a “reckless abandonment,” thinking that “nothing even that Snape had left him could be worse than his own thoughts.”

Yet what is the first thing he sees when he arrives in Snape’s memories? Two girls swinging on a sunny day, and a skinny boy of 9 or 10 spying on them:

…a skinny boy was watching them from behind a clump of bushes. His black hair was overlong and his clothes were so mismatched that it looked deliberate: too short jeans, a shabby, overlarge coat that might have belonged to a grown man, an odd smock-like shirt.

Have we seen any other skinny black-haired boys so deliberately misdressed? Here’s the first view we get of 11-year-old Harry:

Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but Harry had always been small and skinny for his age. He looked even smaller and skinnier than he really was because all he had to wear were old clothes of Dudley’s, and Dudley was about four times bigger than he was.

Harry identifies. Even though young Severus grew up with two parents, Harry learns from the memories that they were always shouting at each other – just the way that Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia (one of the girls on the swingset) were always shouting at him. Could it even be possible that Petunia so associates magic with “that Snape boy” that she intentionally dresses Harry to look as shabbily as Lily’s young Wizard friend?

There’s another moment, too, that may help tie matters together for Harry. As we’ve already seen, when Dumbledore tells Severus that Lily’s son lives, Severus gives…

… a tiny jerk of the head [that] seemed to flick off an irksome fly.

Harry has seen that motion before in the Pensieve, in Dumbledore’s own memory of his first meeting with Tom Riddle. When Dumbledore tells Riddle about the Leaky Cauldron (and thus the entry to Diagon Alley), he instructs Tom:

You will be able to see it, although Muggles around you, the non-magical people, that is – will not. Ask for Tom the barman – easy enough to remember, as he shares your name – ”

Riddle gave an irritable twitch, as though trying to displace an irksome fly.

Two twitches. Two drastically different choices.

Snape, as Harry learns from the memories, takes on his irksome fly: Lily’s living son. He protects the boy, shields him, challenges him, berates him, trains him, even dies horribly to get him the memories needed for his task. It’s not what he wants to do. It’s what he chooses to do because it’s necessary. It is his penance, and arguably his redemption.

But Riddle seeks to escape the irksome fly: his common humanity. He changes his name, destroys his identity, splits his soul, becomes something other than human, and finds destruction.

Is it possible that these two slight images in the Pensieve help Harry see – really see – the choices, mistakes, sacrifices, even horrors wrought by these men he has hated… and accept the links they forge with him? Harry, Severus, Tom – the abandoned boys – all adopted Hogwarts as home. Two groped toward the light. The other, in trying to escape it, found nothing greater than death.

Snape Static? (with Poll!)

Before moving on to the question of whether or not Severus Snape is a static character, I just thought I’d mention that Jess (the self-styled “last muggle to read Harry Potter”) just wrote a hilarious post on the Horcruxes chapter in Half-Blood Prince. Don’t miss it! Here’s a teaser (framed as a note to Harry from Dumbledore):

Oh gosh, Harry. Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but I’m arguably the world’s most powerful wizard who completely sees the big picture in this situation and it took me years to find that one Horcrux. But hey, you’re a pretty good Quidditch player. I’m sure you can figure this out on your own. I’m going to go back to being old now, okay? Awesome! TTYL! KIT” –Dumbledore

And while we’re on the subject of other Harry Potter websites, I’ve been playing around a lot lately on the amazing Chamber of Secrets forums. Lots of people with lots of excellent insights – especially in the Legilimency Studies standing “Snape” thread, version 13. (Snape does seem to attract the most consistent attention).

So a few days ago, I was on the thread, elaborating on what a previous poster had said on the question of whether or not Snape ever actually cared about Harry, and I thought I’d share a few of those thoughts here.

Note: If you are popping in here from Jess’s blog, please stop now if you haven’t read Deathly Hallows! Spoilers ahead!

Here’s the original (much longer) post. The excerpt below is from the final section of the post:

We see a definite progression in how Snape regards Harry. At first, he’s just a thing to be exchanged for the life of the mother. Then he’s the boy who survived when Lily Evans died… but who Snape vows to protect regardless. Throughout the memories, Snape keeps on and on about James Potter’s son. But in the last conversation before Dumbledore’s death, he refers to Harry as Lily Potter‘s son.

Note the distinction here. Not only has he shifted from thinking of Harry as James’ son, he has also shifted from thinking of Lily by her maiden name. He now calls her “Potter.” He has fully acknowledged that she was James’ wife and that Harry was her son.

Note also that when he first hears of Lily’s death, he cannot bear to think of her eyes in Harry’s face. But in his last few seconds of life, he requests to look at Lily’s eyes in Harry’s face. It would have no power if we didn’t know that Snape had refused so strongly to see Lily in Harry. In that case, we could read it (as the Snape naysayers do) as just an obsessive desire to look into Lily’s eyes.

But knowing that Snape initially could not bear to think of Lily’s eyes in Harry’s face, we can see rather that Snape here is seeing Harry as he is… not as what he expects to see. (to paraphrase Dumbledore). And he is acknowledging – to Harry – that he recognizes Harry’s full identity. And this, of course, is underscored by the fact that he gives Harry memories of his mother.

So what do you think? The poll is open… and so is the comments thread!

Oh, by the way, I’m about to embark on a Harry Potter re-read, and I’ll share it right here on the blog. But don’t worry, there will still be occasional outbursts of Snapey goodness. Just so long as I don’t have to squee!


Despises to his last breath: 2 votes
Grows to respect : 7 votes
Cares very deeply: 4 votes
Cares only for Lily: 2 votes
SQUEE!: 1 vote

‘Never – Never Tell’

In Defense of Albus Dumbledore, Part 5

(continued from Part 4)

By forcing Dumbledore to give him his word that he will “never – never tell,” Snape ensures that he will be mistrusted, even hated, by the same people who will gain most from his protection of Harry Potter. Let’s look at a few passages that illustrate the consequences of this secret.

At the end of Philosopher’s Stone/Sorcerer’s Stone:

“Quirrell said he [Snape] hates me because he hated my father. Is that true?”

“Well, they did rather detest each other. Not unlike yourself and Mr. Malfoy. And then your father did something Snape could never forgive.”


“He saved his life.”


“Yes…” said Dumbledore dreamily. “Funny, the way people’s minds work, isn’t it? Professor Snape couldn’t bear being in your father’s debt… I do believe he worked so hard to protect you this year because he felt that would make him and your father even. Then he could go back to hating your father’s memory in peace…”

Dumbledore has to know this is a lie, that Severus Snape feels no debt whatsoever to James Potter because he believes that James was only trying to avoid being expelled for his role in Sirius’ prank. But because he’s given his word, Dumbledore can’t tell Harry the real reason Snape has been trying to protect him. And the lie actually does damage to Harry’s future interactions with the Potions Master. When Harry reveals to Severus that he knows Snape is in his father’s debt, it just intensifies the row already brewing between them.

In the “Pensieve” chapter in Goblet of Fire, Harry sees in Dumbledore’s memories the fact that Snape had once been a Death Eater. After Dumbledore assures Harry that Snape has never again been accused of “any Dark activity,” the Headmaster finds himself once again bound by the conditions of his agreement with Snape:

“What made you think he’d really stopped supporting Voldemort, professor?”

Dumbledore held Harry’s gaze for a few seconds, and then said:

“That, Harry, is a matter between Professor Snape and myself.”

In fact, the matter is so much between Professors Snape and Dumbledore that when Harry tells Remus Lupin that he had overheard Snape question Malfoy, Lupin’s only defense for Snape is to pass the question of trust off on Dumbledore:

“It’s Dumbledore’s business. Dumbledore trusts Severus, and that ought to be enough for all of us.”

Lupin has no idea why Dumbledore trusts Snape. He just knows that he does.

In Half-Blood Prince, when Harry finds out that Snape was the eavesdropper who heard part of Trelawney’s prophesy, the best explanation that Dumbledore can come up with is:

“You have no idea of the remorse Professor Snape felt when he realized how Lord Voldemort had interpreted the prophecy, Harry. I believe it to be the greatest regret of his life and the reason that he returned – ”

“But he’s a very good Occlumens, isn’t he, sir?” said Harry, whose voice was shaking with the effort of keeping it steady. “And isn’t Voldemort convinced that Snape’s on his side, even now? Professor… how can you be sure Snape’s on our side?”

Dumbledore did not speak for a moment; he looked as though he was trying to make up his mind about something. At last he said, “I am sure. I trust Severus Snape completely.”

A few hours after this conversation, Dumbledore will die from Severus Snape’s killing curse. Is he trying to decide whether or not to let Harry in on the secret Snape made him swear to keep? Or perhaps to let Harry know that he has arranged for Snape to kill him? We will never know. What we do know is that Snape’s secret has reverbations far beyond even Dumbledore. After Dumbledore’s death, the other members of the Order absorb the information that one of their own killed the Headmaster:

“Snape,” repeated McGonnagall faintly, falling into the chair. “We all wondered… but he trusted… always… Snape… I can’t believe it.”

“Snape was a highly accomplished Occlumens,” said Lupin, his voice uncharacteristically harsh. “We always knew that.”

“But Dumbledore swore he was on our side!” whispered Tonks. “I always thought Dumbledore must know something about Snape that we didn’t…”

“He always hinted that he had an ironclad reason for trusting Snape,” muttered Professor McGonnagall, now dabbing the corners of her leaking eyes with a tartan-edged handkerchief. “I mean… with Snape’s history… of course people were bound to wonder… but Dumbledore told me explicitly that Snape’s repentance was absolutely genuine… Wouldn’t hear a word against him!”

Well, Dumbledore did have an ironclad reason to trust Snape. And Snape’s repentance for his Death Eater past was absolutely genuine. But because Snape’s role is as a spy, the secret of how and why he turned away from Voldemort is probably best kept… well, secret. A few trusted people like McGonnagall could possibly have been let in, had Snape allowed it. But Snape himself chose the path of absolute secrecy.

And that fact alone should be enough to quiet down those Snape partisans who bemoan the fact that the Potions Master got so little recognition and reward from his colleagues.

But, of course, it won’t.

‘He Has Her Eyes, Precisely Her Eyes’

In Defense of Albus Dumbledore, Part 2

(continued from Part 1)

In Part 1, we looked at Dumbledore’s dealings with Severus Snape when Snape wished to exchange the life of the mother for the lives of the father and the son. Let’s continue with another scene from “The Prince’s Tale”:

The hilltop faded and Harry stood in Dumbledore’s office, and something was making a terrible sound, like a wounded animal. Snape was slumped forward in a chair and Dumbledore was standing over him, looking grim. After a moment or two, Snape raised his face, and he looked like a man who had lived a hundred years of misery since leaving the wild hilltop.

“I thought… you were going… to keep her… safe…”

“She and James put their faith in the wrong person,” said Dumbledore. “Rather like you, Severus. Weren’t you hoping that Lord Voldemort would spare her?”

This scene probably takes place about a day after the opening of the first book. Dumbledore has already delivered Harry to the Dursleys, and has presumably joined in the celebrations following Voldemort’s fall. But for Severus Snape, there can be no celebration.

This is a delicate moment in Snape’s story. The consequences he tried to escape by turning to Dumbledore in the first place have now hit him full in the face. He is already at Hogwarts, already a spy, already starting to turn his life around. But now disaster strikes. Lily is dead. He sounds like a wounded animal, and Dumbledore looks grim. If Dumbledore mishandles the scene now unfolding in his office, Snape can be lost forever.

But Dumbledore knows his man. When Snape tries to blame Dumbledore for not protecting Lily sufficiently, Dumbledore – correctly – throws it right back at him, making Lily’s death a question of choices, not his personal omnipotence or lack thereof.

As always, our choices define us. James and Lily made a bad choice. Severus made a bad choice. At the point where those two sets of bad choices intersect, Lily Evans died.

The scene continues:

Snape’s breathing was shallow.

“Her boy survives,” said Dumbledore.

With a tiny jerk of the head, Snape seemed to flick off an irksome fly.

“Her son lives. He has her eyes, precisely her eyes. You remember the shape and color of Lily Evans’s eyes, I am sure?”

“DON’T!” bellowed Snape. “Gone… dead…”

Oh boy, this is where some Snape partisans really lose it. In the alternate Potterverse they’ve constructed, Dumbledore is callously taunting Snape so that he can find a way to make him “useful” to Dumbledore. In the comments to the Snapedom essay “You Have Used Me: Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore, Betrayal and Trust,” bohemianspirit writes that “one of the worst examples” of Dumbledore’s “callous disregard for human feeling” is the “horrible, horrible way he taunted Severus with, “Remember Lily’s eyes, Severus?”

In that corner of the Potterverse, Dumbledore is a master manipulator who has zero concern for any other person, just so long as he gets what he wants. He manipulates Severus into doing his will, manipulates Potter into doing his will, and it matters little to him what damage he causes in the process.

It’s a view that listens only to Aberforth’s bitterness (and Snape’s complaint that Dumbledore used him) – and listens not at all to Dumbledore in King’s Cross. In short, Dumbledore is a bit of a sociopath. Any tears he may have shed or self-doubts he may have expressed over his failings are irrelevant, as are any conclusions Harry ultimately draws. Dumbledore, in these fans’ view, is only about lies and manipulation.

But “callous disregard” is not the only way to read the exchange. As Katie Sullivan writes:

[Dumbledore and Snape] both had felt the temptation of the Dark Arts; Snape followed that path much farther than Dumbledore did before realizing the terrible price such magic exacts, but they both were, in a sense, recovering addicts. I think that, as much as Snape’s deep love for Lily, was the reason for Dumbledore’s unwavering trust in him.


Listen to the language Snape uses to answer Bellatrix in the “Spinner’s End” chapter of Half-Blood Prince:

Bellatrix: While I endured the dementors, you remained at Hogwarts, comfortably playing Dumbledore’s pet!

Snape: Not quite. He wouldn’t give me the Defense Against the Dark Arts job, you know. Seemed to think it might, ah, bring about a relapse… tempt me into my old ways.

Snape uses precisely the language of addiction and recovery. If we tease out the analogy for the scene in Dumbledore’s office, Snape is newly recovering from his fall into the Dark Arts, while Dumbledore has had a much, much longer period of recovery. And like a newly recovering addict’s counselor, Dumbledore does not gloss over attitudes that could cause Snape a relapse… or worse, drive him to suicide. Instead, he has the unmitigated gall to call Snape on them! He again uses tough love.

When Dumbledore tells Snape the single piece of good news in this tragedy – that the boy lives – Snape treats the news as if it’s an “irksome fly.” He appears to regard the boy as an usurper, alive while Lily is dead. It is precisely at this point that Dumbledore draws Snape’s attention to the fact that the boy is not an insect to be brushed off. He is a child, Lily’s child. He has precisely her eyes.

Dumbledore is not callously taunting Snape. He’s acting as a conscience, putting a human face on Harry for Snape, a human face that Snape needs to see. Significantly, at the end of his long and perilous journey, Snape finally will acknowledge, in his last breath, that the boy does indeed have Lily’s eyes. (continued in Part 3)

Avada Kedavra

I’m still trying to process what I’ve just read, and I’m still not entirely sure what to make of Snape’s Avada Kedavra.

Despite the explanation Snape is given, it’s clear that in Dumbledore’s mind, the killing is part of a larger military strategy. Rowling has said that Dumbledore is somewhat Machiavellian, pulling strings. I would say rather that he is a military general, making hard choices in order to win a war that absolutely must be won. And this brings in the whole question of what is morally acceptable under such circumstances.

For starters, let’s dismiss the idea that this is really a mercy killing. It’s not. Would the man who is willing to drink 10 cups of potion in the cave be afraid of pain and humiliation? I don’t think so. Rather, when he finds out he has only one year left regardless of the outcome of Draco’s plan, he decides that the best course of action is not to fight Draco and the Death Eaters but to plan the strategy for his death.

Here, in a nutshell, is Dumbledore’s strategy:

  • to deprive Voldemort of the Elder Wand’s allegiance
  • to make sure that one of the other Death Eaters sent with Draco does not win the Elder Wand
  • to “prove” Snape’s allegiance to Voldemort so that Snape can become headmaster and covertly protect Hogwarts students from the Death Eaters
  • to protect Draco’s soul

Dumbledore merely uses the “just do me a favor and don’t let it be the werewolf or Bellatrix” argument because he thinks it’s the safest way to ensure Snape’s compliance. But he underestimates Snape. Snape is worried about his own soul. He rebels at the prospect of killing Dumbledore as the time comes closer, and “Spare me pain and humiliation” becomes an insufficient argument for doing the deed. Snape would apparently prefer to die himself when the Unbreakable Vow rebounds on him than have to kill Dumbledore.

So what tactic does Dumbledore use to win Snape over? He lets him in on part of the strategy behind the endgame.

Dumbledore can’t reveal the Elder Wand (or the Horcrux) aspects of the strategy to Snape in case Voldemort is somehow able to break through Snape’s mental defenses. But he believes that he can reveal the final plan for Harry.

I don’t believe for a second that Snape goes along with the plan because it will hasten Harry’s death. He’s visibly horrified at the prospect. What I do think happens is that he finally realizes that this war is a lot bigger than Lily, and that he’s not the only soldier being asked to make terrible sacrifices. Even Lily’s son – presumably the Headmaster’s favorite – will be asked to lay down his life when the time comes.

This would seem to be the moment when Snape begins to think strategically, looking at the bigger picture, rather than just be consumed with his own grief. He doesn’t know Dumbledore’s full plan, but he apparently assumes that the Headmaster’s death must be part of it – just as Harry’s death and his own role as a double agent must be part of it. I think in the end he kills Dumbledore because he trusts that it is necessary to do so in order to defeat Voldemort.

Now for the question of Severus Snape’s soul…

I think it’s fairly clear that Snape’s soul does not suffer further damage from killing Dumbledore. I would argue, in fact, that his better self grows stronger over the following year. His soul begins to rebound:

  • When Neville tries to steal the sword of Gryffindor, what punishment does Snape give him? He sends him into the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid. No Cruciatus curse. No torture devices from Filch. Just a mildly frightening field trip.
  • When the picture of Phineas Nigellus Black refers to Hermione as a mudblood, it is Snape who rushes to her defense, saying “Do not use that word.”
  • In the battle over Little Whinging, when the Death Eater in front of Snape is about to cast an Avada Kedavra at Lupin, Snape aims a Sectumsempra at the Death Eater’s wand hand. It misses. It hits George in the ear. But it does save Lupin’s life. Snape nearly blows his cover in order to save the life of one of James Potter’s friends.
  • And do you think Snape is not aware that Neville is reorganizing Dumbledore’s Army and using the Room of Requirement to escape the wrath of the Carrows? Of course he knows. Yet he allows it to take place right under the Carrows’ noses.
  • And that Patronus he casts in the Forest of Dean? That powerful corporeal doe that Harry recognizes as benign? Do you think that a man with recent murder on his soul could cast such a thing, given that the Patronus is a reflection of the caster’s soul?

Snape killed Dumbledore, yes, but the text appears to argue that he did not commit murder in doing so. It was not done for selfish reasons or with malice aforethought. Rather, he was a soldier fulfilling a crucial mission that resulted in a death. It was not the death of an enemy, but it was a death by consent that was strategically important in order to win a war with satanic evil. Killing Albus Dumbledore did not rip Snape’s soul.

Mark Shea has a very interesting article dealing with the Avada Kedavra and the failure of Dumbledore’s strategy. Actually, I would argue that only part of Dumbledore’s strategy fails – the part involving the Elder Wand. The rest of the strategy succeeds, and in fact Dumbledore’s death may even have provided protection for Draco, Severus, and Harry akin to the protection afforded Harry by his mother’s sacrifice, and to the Hogwarts defenders by Harry’s sacrifice.

Severus Snape is killed by a snake, not a curse, so it’s hard to know what effect Dumbledore’s death might have had against the Killing Curse. But the fact that Snape’s soul appears to rebound in his final year tells me that Dumbledore’s death should be viewed as a sacrifice that had some efficacious effect, not an assisted suicide that marred the souls of the two plotters.

And this opens up a whole slew of questions concerning wartime morality and what is and is not justified. It is acceptable to kill the enemy during time of war. But is killing a commanding officer on his orders in the line of duty for strategic reasons ever morally acceptable? And if so, is it morally acceptable to do so with the incomplete and somewhat inaccurate strategic explanation Snape is given? (ie. Save Draco and don’t let me get eaten or crucio’d) – or does the soldier need to understand the “why” of the order? Is this a form of consequentialism? Is Rowling’s thinking muddied and muddled on these issues?

Even if the killing is evil, I think Catholic readers like myself can legitimately believe that Snape does not commit mortal sin in fulfilling Dumbledore’s orders. Why? Because he is not making a free choice to participate in moral evil. He’s trying to do what’s right in confusing circumstances. Snape’s intractable bitterness is ultimately of more concern to the state of his soul. Of course, not being a moral theologian, I am open to correction on this point.

More thought provoking comments, from the Hogwarts Professor site: “Once Again, The Vigilant Christians (TM) Denounce Harry Potter