Spoilers for Deathly Hallows

Did Dumbledore "order" (or ask) Snape to kill him before or after Snape took an Unbreakable Vow to help Draco Malfoy?

(The impetus for asking was a realization that, if it was after the Vow, it means Snape clearly 100% would have preferred to die from violating the vow rather than killing Dumbledore - thus, giving unambiguous insight into the positiveness of character long before the Big Reveal in DH)

  • I want to say before based on what I remember from Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, but I'm not willing to post an answer until I'm home and can check the books. Jun 14, 2012 at 10:24
  • 2
    Scifi.SE logo should be changed to 106pt SPOILER WARNING
    – n611x007
    Jun 20, 2012 at 10:47
  • 1
    @naxa The book was published seven years ago, if you're on this site and haven't read/heard about it yet, I question how you got here.
    – NominSim
    Jul 13, 2012 at 22:32
  • @NominSim it's right that this is not the best place to discuss the spoiling policy :) With that, please never mind. So independent of that: oh, seven years! Never realized that. I still remember the day it was out like it were yesterday.
    – n611x007
    Jul 14, 2012 at 1:24
  • @naxa - if you feel like any question (like this one) needs a spoler tag, you can comment (hoping OP or someone else will fix) or post on META asking if this Q is within the scope of spoiler policy. I wouldn't object if someone de-spoilered this question without making it worse, but I don't feel it's enough of a need to bother doing it myself, sorry. Jul 14, 2012 at 2:03

3 Answers 3


I just came across an interesting tiny little tidbit from Chapter 2 which I think confirms once and for all that Snape had already been asked by Dumbledore to kill him before he takes the vow. During the time when Snape systematically answers Bellatrix's questions regarding his loyalty to Voldemort, he makes the following comment:

"I have played my part well," said Snape. "And you overlook Dumbledore's greatest weakness: He has to believe the best of people. I spun him a tale of deepest remorse when I joined his staff, fresh from my Death Eater days, and he embraced me with open arms — though, as I say, never allowing me nearer the Dark Arts than he could help. Dumbledore has been a great wizard — oh yes, he has," (for Bellatrix had made a scathing noise), "the Dark Lord acknowledges it. I am pleased to say, however, that Dumbledore is growing old. The duel with the Dark Lord last month shook him. He has since sustained a serious injury because his reactions are slower than they once were."

If the injury Snape refers to is the hand injury Dumbledore sustained putting on the Gaunt ring - and I can't think of any other injury Snape could be referring to - then Dumbledore had already asked Snape to kill him. This is before Narcissa explains why she had come to Snape in the first place, and far before she asks him to make the Unbreakable Vow. So, Snape made the vow knowing full well that he would already have to kill Dumbledore.

  • Good catch. Of course, Dumbledore did work hard on researching about the Horcruxes and the Dark Lord's past near that time, and doesn't talk to Harry much about the details, so he could have gotten some other injury we don't even know about.
    – b_jonas
    Jul 13, 2012 at 22:21
  • But he didn't really duel Voldemort when putting the ring on. It's almost certainly refering to the battle in the Ministry of Magic at the end of the 5th book.
    – Izkata
    Jul 13, 2012 at 22:49
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    @Izkata "The duel ... shook him. He has since sustained a serious injury." The injury was explicitly not the duel.
    – Kevin
    Jul 13, 2012 at 22:57
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    @Izkata The thing that makes Snape such an accomplished Occlumens is that he uses as much truth in his misdirection as possible. I believe the injury he refers to is the hand injury from the curse on Malvolo Gaunt's ring, but he tells Narcissa and Bellatrix that it came from the MoM fight in OotP. It serves a dual purpose of explaining away the injury in case it gets questioned as well as throw anyone off the trail of what Dumbledore is doing. It also proves that Snape already knew of the injury prior to this meeting.
    – morganpdx
    Jul 13, 2012 at 22:59
  • @Kevin Aha, I missed that
    – Izkata
    Jul 13, 2012 at 22:59

It isn't explicitely stated when Snape takes the vow, and when he is ordered(asked) to kill Dumbledore. However, it is strongly implied that the vow takes place after being ordered by Dumbledore. We can only tell that both events take place before school starts from the books however.

Snape didn't need to take the vow; it solidified his position with Bellatrix perhaps slightly, but Voldemort probably wouldn't be happy knowing that his plans were being subverted by his followers. So it seems unlikely that he would be told if Snape refused to take the vow. (In other words the vow wouldn't be evidence of his loyalty to Voldemort.)

By taking the vow Snape guaranteed either his own death or Dumbledore's. These were the two most important men in the "resistance" against Voldemort(O.K. maybe Harry was somewhat important too), and Snape is an intelligent person, so unless he already knew that Dumbledore's death was a forgone conclusion, why would he essentially ruin the best laid plans of Dumbledore? The benefits came nowhere near to outweighing the costs unless Dumbledore was already a dead man walking.

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    This is very good reasoning.
    – n611x007
    Jun 20, 2012 at 10:51

This is a close call. Dumbledore "ordered" Snape to kill him before the events of HBP, Chapter 3, and the Unbreakable Vow takes place in HBP, Chapter 2. Thus I can't really answer your question; I can only explain what indications we have of when the "order to kill" took place.

In The Prince's Tale (Chapter 33 of DH) we see Snape's memory of the day on which Dumbledore fooled about with the Resurrection Stone, almost killing himself:

"Why," said Snape, without preamble, "why did you put on that ring? It carries a curse, surely you realized that. Why even touch it?"
Marvolo Gaunt's ring lay on the desk before Dumbledore. It was cracked; the sword of Gryffindor lay beside it.

A bit later, Snape asks Dumbledore if he intends to let Draco kill him, to which Dumbledore replies:

Certainly not. You must kill me.

From HBP (Chapter 3) we know that this happened before the beginning of Harry's 6th year. When Dumbledore comes to the Dursleys to fetch him,

Harry saw that his hand was blackened and shrivelled; it looked as though his flesh had been burned away.

Thus, Dumbledore requested Snape to kill him before he fetched Harry from the Dursleys, and the Unbreakable Vow was also performed before that date.

  • This doesn't seem like an answer, other than saying that they both occurred before some date.
    – NominSim
    Jun 14, 2012 at 15:47
  • @NominSim: Well, I say above that I can't really answer the question. But I can at least contribute some relevant facts from canon :-) (I find very plausible what you're writing in your answer, but it's still wide open to speculation, isn't it?) Jun 14, 2012 at 16:06

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