When Snape's changed his allegiance from Voldemort to Dumbledore he did so expressly because he wanted to honour Lily's memory by protecting Harry. It was Dumbledore himself who persuaded him to take this course of action.

“If you loved Lily Evans, if you truly loved her, then your way forward is clear.”
Snape seemed to peer through a haze of pain, and Dumbledore’s words appeared to take a long time to reach him.
“What — what do you mean?”
“You know how and why she died. Make sure it was not in vain. Help me protect Lily’s son.”
(Deathly Hallows, Chapter 33, The Prince's Tale).

If this was the basis on which Snape changed sides and the basis for Dumbledore's trust of Snape then why on earth would he be surprised, 15 years later, that Snape's motivations remain the same? Dumbledore seems genuinely surprised that Snape is still acting out of his love for Lily. He is confident that telling Snape that Harry must die won't cause him disquiet. He questions why Snape's motivations would be unchanged "after all this time".

[Snape] stood up. “You have used me.”
“I have spied for you and lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to be to keep Lily Potter’s son safe. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter-”
“But this is touching, Severus,” said Dumbledore seriously. “Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?”
“For him?” shouted Snape. “Expecto Patronum!
From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe: she landed on the office floor, bounded once across the office, and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.
After all this time?
“Always,” said Snape.
(Deathly Hallows, Chapter 33, The Prince's Tale).

Bear in mind both that:

  • Dumbledore was completely confident in Snape's loyalty. He trusted him implicitly and absolutely.
  • The sole basis for Snape's loyalty, based on what Snape actually revealed to Dumbledore, was his commitment to protect Harry on Lily's behalf.

Why does Dumbledore suddenly cast doubt on Snape's commitment to honouring Lily and protecting Harry here? Surely that was the basis for his allegiance to the Order all along? Doesn't Dumbledore's absolute trust of Snape imply that he was completely confident that Snape's motivations were unchanged?

  • 14
    Note that while his original motivation 15 years ago was honouring Lily, it's also quite likely that he developed other motivations in the meantime - genuine respect, trust and/or caring for Dumbledore and what he represented. It wouldn't really be out of character for him to stop being in love with Lily, while staying loyal to Dumbledore. Joining the Death Eaters was a juvenile stupidity, not a well-thought act of a mature man - he might very well resent it not just for causing Lily's death, but also just for being cowardly, self-serving and frankly stupid. He matured a lot since then.
    – Luaan
    Feb 9, 2017 at 13:50

4 Answers 4


He's not referring to the commitment to the Order - he's referring to the Patronus, and what it represents.

If the person you love has an animal form, your patronus can turn into something resembling them.

Tonk's patronus became a wolf after she fell in love with Lupin.

As Harry swung the cloak back over himself, she waved her wand; an immense silvery four-legged creature erupted from it and streaked off into the darkness.

Chapter: Snape Victorious, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This was a definite change, as Snape points out to her shortly afterwards (while being his usual prick self).

And incidentally," said Snape, standing back to allow Harry to pass him, "I was interested to see your new Patronus."


"I think you were better off with the old one," said Snape, the malice in his voice unmistakable. "The new one looks weak."

Chapter: Snape Victorious, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Lily's patronus was a doe - either coincidentally or specifically because of James' Animagus form (probably the latter).

You can't choose your Patronus. The fact that Snape's is a doe - is Lily - means that he still truly loves her, and that his feelings for her haven't weakened over the years. It's the depths of this love that hits Dumbledore so hard - that's the reason he gets tears in his eyes on seeing the Patronus.

By "After all this time?" he means "After all this time your feelings for her haven't changed, or dimmed, or faded?"

  • 18
    I think you're partly right. The Patronus does testify to the strength of Snape's feelings for Lily. It's understandable that Dumbledore would be surprised about the doe. But surely if he thinks that Snape's feelings for Lily have weakened then he thinks that Snape's commitment to the Order has weakened (since she was the reason he joined). Why would Dumbledore be so confident Snape was still loyal to him in that case? Feb 8, 2017 at 16:54
  • Beautiful, this cleared up something I'd wondered for a long time after seeing the movie (which has the same "After all this time?" quote). +1
    – NateJ
    Feb 8, 2017 at 19:08
  • 31
    @TheDarkLord Because Lilly was the trigger that caused him to finally "switch sides", but that doesn't mean it was the only reason. Someone who had known little trust or respect in his life suddenly receiving it from someone like Dumbledore for example - that would be profound.
    – Tim B
    Feb 8, 2017 at 20:28
  • Note: what was Harry's old patronus and what is his new one? And from what book does that quote come?
    – Nzall
    Feb 10, 2017 at 10:28
  • 1
    @Nzall Sorry, the quote isn't clear - Snape is talking to Tonks, not Harry. I was looking for a quote to indicate that hers had changed and saw Snapes, but CHEESE's answer has a better one. This is from Book 6, when Tonks is delivering Harry to the castle.
    – DavidS
    Feb 10, 2017 at 11:43

It's been almost 17 years since Lily died, and about 22 since Snape was rejected by Lily in fifth year after O.W.Ls.

Patronuses change after a great shock, and emotional upheaval (from HP6):

“Tonks’s Patronus has changed its form,” he told him. “Snape said so anyway. I didn’t know that could happen. Why would your Patronus change?” Lupin took his time chewing his turkey and swallowing before saying slowly, “Sometimes . . . a great shock . . . an emotional upheaval . . .”

It's not normal to be in shock for 17 years after a breakup, or to still be in love enough for a Patronus after so much time. Obviously Patronuses revert back to original form once some of the grief of the loss has worn off.

He's not saying "after all this time, you still have a reason to be loyal to me?" he's saying "after all this time, you grieve for Lily Potter?"

  • 6
    But his grief for Lily was his reason for being loyal to Dumbledore. They're one and the same thing. Feb 8, 2017 at 14:24
  • 17
    @TheDarkLord Not after over a decade of peace and working with The Order. Snape's a piece of shit as a person, but he was always a fringe Death Eater - he didn't really believe in their creed. By the events of Book 1 he's essentially been rehabilitated. Even if he managed to get over Lily in the intervening years it's likely he'd stick with The Order and (specifically) Dumbledore.
    – DavidS
    Feb 8, 2017 at 14:35
  • 12
    @TheDarkLord You are mistaking grief and love.
    – CHEESE
    Feb 8, 2017 at 16:25
  • 14
    @TheDarkLord Dumbledore knew Snape still cared for Lily; however, he didn't know that he was still grieving, that he was still in the state of emotional upheaval and shock.
    – CHEESE
    Feb 8, 2017 at 16:55
  • 16
    He doesn't grieve for Lily Potter. He grieves for Lily Evans.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 9, 2017 at 12:16

I think the context of the

“After all this time?”

is set by the preceeding:

“But this is touching, Severus,” said Dumbledore seriously. “Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?”.

And what that means is simple: Dumbledore asks if Snape finally gotten over his dislike of Harry. I'd say that saying that Snape was not fond of the boy is an understatement of highest caliber. All that matters to Snape is what Harry represents - a part of Lily that's still here. But it's the only thing that matters to Snape, really.

I do not precisely remember the scene from the movie, but i think Rickman then has very unmistakable expression on his face... Which tells a lot, especially since that bit is missing in the book. Then again, JKR was consulting of the movies, so...

So the question is much less an accusation or castigation of any doubt by Dumbledore, but genuine surprise at the strength of the Snape's feelings for Lily.

The surprise may be explained by the nature of the Patronus charm: always an animal, it expresses the nature of the caster, is linked to significant events in one's life and with requirement for a single, very happy memory.

Think on it for a bit and it's possible that Snape was very happy being extremely unhappy. Sort of creepy.

  • There is slight difference between protection and care. If you aretouching a hot wire I can hit you on your hands by a light stick or by a hammer. In both cases I the first sace I have (carefully) saved your life. In the second case I have broken your arms and, by the way, saved your life. Stape was convinced to change sides in the name of Lily, not in the name of Harry.
    – Crowley
    Feb 9, 2017 at 16:41
  • Another point is that Dumbledore and Snape knew that Voldemort hadn't been defeated and that he would return once. Snape was also double agent and his open care for Harry would be a strong argument against his loyalty to Voldemort. He protected Harry all the time, see the match in Sorcerer's stone, and keeps his loyalty to Lily and Harry against anybody. Including Dumbledore. The fewer people knew, the fewer risks to Snape and Harry.
    – Crowley
    Feb 9, 2017 at 16:46
  • The only reason Dumbledore was considering that Snape may have grown to care for Harry was because he was overlooking Snape's feelings for Lily. My question is, why would he have forgotten those feelings in the first place? Also, I know Snape is hardly Mr Happy but I don't think that the impression we get from the books is someone who gloried in misery. Feb 9, 2017 at 18:31
  • @Crowley - And I'm saying that very same thing. And pointing out that he was doing the mental equivalent of breaking Harry's both arms all the time. Notwithstanding the fact it made for great cover, he positively enjoyed it all end every time.
    – AcePL
    Feb 10, 2017 at 9:14
  • @TheDarkLord - And I'm answering that it was not the fact of the feelings for Lily but their strength, underscoring it with the way the Patronus works. For me, all that say that Snape lives actually in the day of her death, for the last 17 years of his life. This is what surprises Dumbledore, not the fact. And last bit: for Snape it's not even far-fetched to blame Harry for her death, actually - he showed up, she had to die because of that...
    – AcePL
    Feb 10, 2017 at 9:56

Snape make a bad break in this conversation. He calls Lily by the surname, says "Lily Potter." In my opinion, this is not an accident, something that Severus began to perceive her not as Lily Evans, but as Lily Potter, says that he accept her along with her husband and child.

But here we are resting on one problem - Snape didn't know that James was animagus, which means that he might not have associated Lily's patronus with him.
By the way, do students teach the Patronus spell? Harry demonstrates Patronus to OWL, this is "aerobatics", he should not know this idea at that time. But probably, they learn later? It is possible that Snape saw James's and Lily's patronus, when they were taught, in the seventh year is permissible.
Or maybe they weren't studied at school at all, and, say, Snape taught Lily to call the patronus. Finally she was so interested Dementors ...

  • 3
    I don't see how this answers the question... and in any case, do you have canon proof of any of these claims, such as that Snape didn't know James was an Animagus?
    – F1Krazy
    Nov 30, 2017 at 9:14
  • 1
    Snape definitely has known that James was an Animagus, since James saved Snape from Lupin in his Werewolf form.
    – Sandun
    Jun 25, 2021 at 16:56

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