Snape was caught eavesdropping on Trelawney's prophecy by Aberforth and Albus Dumbledore (How did Trelawney know Snape interrupted her interview with Dumbledore (and her prophecy)?). Based on Lily's statement in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:

You and your precious little Death Eater friends - you see, you don't even deny it! You don't even deny that's what you're all aiming to be! You can't wait to join You-Know-Who, can you?

He opened his mouth, but closed it without speaking.

it doesn't seem like a secret that Snape was a Death Eater. Later on, Dumbledore even says,

What message does Lord Voldemort have for me?

What request could a Death Eater make of me?

Why would (Albus) Dumbledore allow Snape to leave in the first place knowing he heard part of Trelawney's prophecy, and that the prophecy was about how Voldemort can be defeated? Surely Dumbledore would assume that Snape would tell Voldemort this critical piece of intelligence?

Note: Albus definitely knew Snape overheard the prophecy since Alberforth brought Snape into the room where Trelawney and Albus was.

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    My personal head-canon (which has no textual support as far as I am aware): The prophecy would not have been fulfilled if Voldemort had not learned of it and tried to prevent it. Therefore, Trelawney would not have given it until Snape or another Death Eater was both in earshot and able to escape without Dumbledore's interference, because otherwise it would be a false prophecy. I also imagine that Dumbledore might have been clever enough to figure all of this out and deliberately allowed Snape to get away, but that might be giving him too much credit.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 6:55
  • I added support that Albus knew right away that Snape was eavesdropping Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 16:03
  • @neverendingqs Actual support would be a quote from the book. Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 21:30
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    @AnthonyGrist, that's in the linked question. Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 22:28
  • Dumbledore didn't know Trelawney was going to give a prophecy. Snape didn't know as well. Dumbledore didn't know Snape was a death eater then. It was all coincidence. Snape was probably tasked with spying on Dumbledore. What is Dumbledore supposed to do? Memory charm him until he goes insane? Kidnap him. For all they know, Snape was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time or wanted information on potential future teachers. In hindsight, things are much clearer. Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 13:04

2 Answers 2


tl;dr: It's not clear exactly what happened in the Hog's Head, but Aberforth was probably the one who threw Snape out while Albus was focused on hiring and protecting Trelawney. They also probably didn't have the evidence or the authority to bar Snape from leaving, and besides, Dumbledore's not the type to simply kidnap a suspected Death Eater who couldn't be proved to have done anything wrong.

There are a few discrepancies between Dumbledore's account in Book 5 of what happened in the Hog's Head that day, and Trelawney's account in Book 6. In particular, Dumbledore says that

"My — our — one stroke of good fortune was that the eavesdropper was detected only a short way into the prophecy and thrown from the building." (Book 5, Chapter 37: The Lost Prophecy)

Meanwhile, Trelawney recounts that

“Yes, there was a commotion outside the door and it flew open, and there was that rather uncouth barman standing with Snape, who was waffling about having come the wrong way up the stairs..." (Book 6, Chapter 25: The Seer Overheard)

This seems to contradict the fact that Snape was "thrown from the building" halfway through Trelawney's prophecy. So it's not entirely clear exactly what went on that day, nor is it clear whose recollection is more accurate. On the one hand, I would take Dumbledore's memory over Trelawney's any day, not in the least because Trelawney was unconscious during the key moment; on the other hand, we know that Dumbledore was deliberately withholding information from Harry, specifically the identity of the eavesdropper.

Still, in the absence of any evidence pointing otherwise, let us assume as Himarm did in his answer to the linked question that neither Dumbledore nor Trelawney are truly misrepresenting the course of events. To be fair, when Dumbledore says that Snape was "detected only a short way into the prophecy and thrown from the building," it doesn't necessarily mean that Snape was thrown out halfway through the prophecy — only that he was detected halfway through the prophecy. He could have been — and, indeed, if Trelawney is to be believed, must have been — "thrown from the building" after the prophecy's completion.

But, if Dumbledore is to be believed, Snape was thrown from the building. To finally answer your question, however, I don't think Dumbledore was directly responsible for throwing Snape out. The way he phrases things in that first quote sounds a lot more like something Aberforth did, while Albus was busy with other matters — presumably, with hiring Trelawney:

"Well, after that, you know, Dumbledore seemed much more disposed to give me a job..." (Book 6, Chapter 25: The Seer Overheard)

At this point, Dumbledore's top priority would have been to protect Sybill Trelawney; if he didn't, and Voldemort found out about the prophecy, Voldemort would undoubtedly go after her. That was why Dumbledore hired her, and that was what he was no doubt doing while Aberforth took care of Snape.

Perhaps throwing him out wasn't the wisest decision in hindsight, but what else could they do? They didn't know exactly how much he had heard, and they were no doubt still trying to figure out the implications of Trelawney's prediction (remember, Dumbledore never thought much of Divination in the first place; there was still the chance that Trelawney was just faking it to impress him).

More importantly, Snape hadn't done anything technically illegal, nor was there likely to be any hard evidence of any prior illegal activity which would be grounds to arrest him. Just being a suspected Death Eater probably wasn't enough to, say, land him in Azkaban (after all, plenty of Death Eaters wormed their way out of imprisonment). Dumbledore was influential, but likely not quite influential enough (he had no official government authority) to kidnap suspected Death Eaters willy-nilly.

It also just isn't really Dumbledore's style to kidnap suspected Death Eaters, regardless. Even if people are suspicious, if he doesn't have any hard evidence he tends to just give them free rein while keeping an eye on them (think Quirrell in Book 1 and Lucius Malfoy at the end of Book 2). So even if he was the one who let Snape go, it still fits with what he usually does.

  • Thoughts on Albus using a memory charm? Or if Albus attempted Legilimency on Snape? Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 20:21
  • @neverendingqs Snape's probably the best Occlumens in the series, so Legilimency wouldn't have worked. Not so sure about Memory Charms, but I'd guess they can be defended against in a similar manner. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 4:13
  • Perhaps they didn't even know Snape was there to spy on Dumbledore. Even Dumbledore himself didn't know there was going to be a real prophecy Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 12:59

Snape doesn't come to Dumbledore for help until after Snape learns that Voldemort is going after the Potter family. So the chain of events is:

  1. Snape overhears part of the prophecy, is observed eavesdropping, but escapes.
  2. Snape shares what he heard of the prophecy with Voldemort.
  3. Voldemort decides the child must be Harry Potter, not Neville Longbottom.
  4. Snape pleads with Voldemort to spare Lily's life, but his pleas are coldly received.
  5. Snape goes to Dumbledore to ask Dumbledore to protect for Lily and her family.
  6. Crossing enemy lines like this is what begins Snape's career as a double agent.

I think you're asking why Dumbledore would let Snape, as his double agent, share the prophecy's content with Voldemort. The answer is, Snape was not yet a double agent, so Dumbledore had no influence to prevent it.

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    I am not. I am asking why Albus let Snape go after Aberforth caught Snape eavesdropping (or if Snape escaped, how he escaped). It is understood that this was before Snape became a double agent. Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 16:03

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