Snape dies after being repeatedly stabbed & poisoned by Nagini, at different locations in the book & the movie, but in both Harry is witnessing this in hiding. As Snape counts his final breaths, he asks Harry to collect his pensive memories from his tears into a flask.

These memories bring the single most important twist in the Harry Potter universe.

Dumbledore had asked Snape to share these memories (specifically that Harry must die) with Harry when the time is right, when Voldemort starts to keep Nagini close & under protection.

Harry witnesses Snape's death as a coincidence. He could have been anywhere in the Castle. Voldemort could have Avada Kedavra-ed Snape instantly & anywhere rather than a slowish death by poisoning.

How was such an important piece of the story left to chance & coincidence (In the story & by J.K. Rowling).

Is there any information mentioning that Snape had a better, safe & foolproof way of passing those memories when the time came? Even Snape must have known, he can die any moment in those chaotic times.

A quote from J.K. Rowling would be great. Surely, this question must have been asked to her.

  • He did, he probably wanted to tell Harry in person, but when she suspected Harry was in the castle under the invisibility cloak, Prof. McGonagall attacked him and forced him to flee the castle
    – user13267
    Commented Sep 27, 2013 at 13:09
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    @user13267 "Tell Harry in person" hmm, that's got to be interesting, weird but interesting. But, seriously, Snape could not have told Harry in person. It wouldn't have been believable. I think Commented Sep 27, 2013 at 16:08
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    This is just speculation on my part, but I'm sure there must be some way that Snape could somehow otherwise have safely passed on the information: possibly the good old fashioned real-world method of writing it down and asking a trusted accomplice to pass it on to Harry in the event of his death, but that's obviously far from foolproof. I then thought there might be something similar to a Howler, like leaving a voicemail message, and setting up a spell or enchantment that would ensure the safe delivery of the message when triggered by Snape's death or whatever other circumstance.
    – RuthP27
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 15:09
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    On that note, of magical "voicemail" messages, I'm sure there must be similar mechanisms for the creation and safekeeping of wills so that they can't be tampered with, destroyed or diverted into the wrong hands, etc. and probably for other important communications that can't be conveyed face to face, like secret wizard-government memos or comms used by the wizard equivalent of the CIA/MI6 etc. etc.
    – RuthP27
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 15:14

9 Answers 9


My interpretation:

It was a flaw in Dumbledore's plan. Just like that.

Dumbledore had asked Snape to share these memories (specifically that Harry must die) with Harry when the time is right, when Voldemort starts to keep Nagini close & under protection.

As you can observe, Dumbledore wanted Snape to tell Harry. However, he did not predict that Voldemort would end up killing Snape before delivering the message. Thus, Dumbledore's plan shattered and everything was over - a flaw in his plan.

Forget about Dumbledore's plan - it failed and Voldemort won. End of the story. Bang.

... Until a miracle happened.

Harry witnesses Snape's death as a coincidence.

Allowing Dumbledore's dead plan to make an unexpected comeback.

What I'm trying to say is that the whole plan was never based on luck. Dumbledore devised a good strategy and didn't leave anything to chance... Except, well, his own mistake, which made it crumble.

Luck came into play at the very end, after Dumbledore's plan had already failed.

So, finally, to answer the question:

What would have happened if Snape had died in absence of Harry?

Game Over.

... Well, just kidding - I honestly think that Dumbledore's plan didn't matter much at the end. You see, the point of the plan was to give Harry courage to protect the others and sacrifice himself - if you think about it, Voldemort threatened Harry to obliterate his friends if he didn't show up - now tell me, do you think Harry would have escaped, leaving his friends behind, regardless of knowing the truth?

Even if Snape had never passed those memories on to Harry, I'm pretty sure that he would still go ahead and protect everyone - he's a Gryffindor dammit!

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    Actually Dumbledore's plan has already shattered when he lost his Elder Wand to Draco. Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 3:41
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    Couldnt disagree more. If Harry hadn't witnessed Snape's death, he wouldn't know he needed to die for Voldemort to be mortal. With Voldy threatening to blow the place up if Harry didnt come in FF, Harry would have gone there alone, maybe telling Neville about Nagini. But Harry wouldn't go defenseless. He didn't know he needed to die. So why the hell would he let Voldemort kill him. He would fight & die like he did in the graveyard in GOF. And we know what would have happened if Harry had cast Expelliarmus & Voldemort Avada Kedavra. SO BOOM, Voldy is dead, but not dead enough. Wohooooo Book 8 Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 4:14
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    Regarding the point about Snape telling Harry in person(in pensive ofcourse) would be the last thing I expect Snape to do before Killing himself. Imagine Snape & Harry bonding after that moment & fighting Voldy together. cringe Also, Snape hating Harry wasn't exactly a part of his Double Agent duties. He hated Harry cos he reminded him of James more than Lily. Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 4:20
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    @KharoBangdo: It doesn't matter if Harry goes defenseless or not. Dumbledore noted that as long as he was hit by the curse, Voldemort's soul would shatter. The plan was to give him courage to go - embracing death was a plus, but not a requirement. You're right about the possibility of accidentally getting Voldemort mid-killed, but as I said, Dumbledore's plan had already failed by then.
    – Saturn
    Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 7:36
  • @KharoBangdo: Regarding your point about Snape not wanting to tell Harry in person, I doubt it. Yes, he hates Harry - but Snape cooperated with Dumbledore for many years with the sole purpose of protecting Harry for Lily's sake. If we follow the concept that Snake was willing to do anything to avenge Lily, it is not unthinkable that Snape would cooperate with Harry. Plus, why do you say "Snape and Harry fighting together against Voldemort"? All Snape needed to do was SEND Harry to die. That's it.
    – Saturn
    Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 7:40

Voldemort would not have dared to Avada Kedavra Snape -- he was under the impression that Snape was the master of the Elder Wand, and he would have known better than to try to use the wand to kill the wand's master (only disbelief and arrogance led him to attempt to kill Harry with it later; in this case, though, he was quite convinced that Snape was the master). Granted, he could have borrowed another wand, but look how well that turned out last time he tried it. Snape would be clever enough to reason that, however Voldemort was going to kill him, it would likely not be by using Avada Kedavra. He did not know exactly how Voldemort was planning to do it, but he had strong reason to believe that it would not be instantaneous (the only other thing that seems to cause instant death that could not be defended against in the wizarding world is the basilisk [by glaring, not by venom], and I highly doubt Voldemort had another one of those sitting around) -- he would have had enough time to enchant a flask of his memories (pre-prepared, probably, considering how cunning he was, though it became easier simply to get it gushing out of his orifices once he saw Harry) to be sent to wherever Harry was at the moment.

Of course, J.K. Rowling wanted Snape to have that last moment of looking into Lily's eyes before dying, so she didn't just have a little vial of Snape's memories appear in front of Harry.

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    +1. Very plausible answer especially the part about why Voldemort would not have Avada Kedavra-ed Snape. Snape could collect his memories in a flask after he was attacked but remember he didnt have a wand to transport that flask to Harry. Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 7:03

Its been a month & this question hasn't received a good enough, acceptable answer.
Shortly after posting the question here, I posted it on Quora as well. Only difference is that, there I asked people to speculate & be imaginative. One person named Steve Jones came up with a brilliant answer with a thorough, in-universe explanation to the what if events.
Below, I present his answer in unedited form

Let us assume that the events of Deathly Hallows takes place exactly as in the book up until the time of Snape's death, with one key exception:

  "It cannot be any other way," said Voldemort. "I must master the wand, Severus.   
  "Master the wand, and I master Potter at last."
  Voldemort raised the Elder Wand, pointed it at Snape and hissed "Avada Kedavra." 
  With a burst of green light, Severus Snape hit the floor. 
  "I regret it," said Voldemort coldly.
  He turned away; there was no sadness in him, no remorse. It was time to leave this shack 
  and take charge, with a wand that would now do his full bidding.

Return to Hogwarts

At this point, Harry would likely still have gone to Snape's side, and after Voldemort's speech would have returned to the castle with Ron and Hermione, but importantly without the memories from Snape. During the walk back, Harry is haunted by Voldemort's words

 "You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. 
 I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest ... one hour ..."

When Harry returns to the Great Hall and sees the Weasleys crowded around Fred's body, and then catches sight of Lupin and Tonks, he is so distressed that he turns away and runs up the marble staircase to the Headmaster's office, to look at Snape's memories. However neither Dumbledore nor any of the other portraits are there. In our "alternate" version, Harry might still go up to the office to speak to Dumbledore's portrait.

 "Dumbledore!" said Harry without thinking, because it was he whom he yearned to see, 
 and to his surprise the gargoyle slid aside, revealing the spiral staircase behind.

Of course the office would hold no answers for Harry, so we must now infer what he might do next from his previous actions.

The Forest

In Philosopher's Stone, he told Hermione to go back for Ron while he went on alone. When Sirius and Dumbledore died, he left everyone else behind and chased their killers through the Ministry and Hogwarts respectively. Coupled with the guilt he feels that his friends have died because of him leads me to believe that he would still have put on the Invisibility Cloak and gone down alone into the forest, to try to kill Nagini and then Voldemort, but not knowing that he housed a fragment of Voldemort's soul which also needed to be destroyed. As with most of his attacks in the rest of the book (against the Death Eaters in the cafe in Tottenham Court Road, against Umbridge in the Ministry, against the goblins at Gringotts; the principle exception I suppose is Malfoy Manor) I believe he would have tried to use stealth to achieve victory. On the way, he would still have told Neville about Nagini as a back up plan, but I don't think he would necessarily have opened the Snitch or used the Resurrection Stone in the same way.

However as soon as he fired a curse at Nagini in her protective cage, he would have been found. He may have managed to take down a few Death Eaters on the way, but Voldemort would have been too vigilant to have taken too great a hit.

 "I thought he would come," said Voldemort in his high, clear voice, his eyes on the 
 leaping flames. "I expected him to come." ...
 "I was, it seems ... mistaken," said Voldemort.
 "You weren't"

Harry's Death and Resurrection

In the book, Harry willingly allows Voldemort to cast the Killing Curse against him. In our alternate version, Voldemort may have had a more aggressive Harry. He would have been surrounded by Death Eaters, like in the graveyard of Little Hangleton at the climax of Goblet of Fire, and one of three scenarios might have then happened:

  1. Harry simply allows Voldemort to kill him (like in the book Deathly Hallows)
  2. Harry and Voldemort duel but the Death Eaters interfere. Whilst they have been instructed not to kill Harry, they may well have tried to disarm or incapacitate Harry, and allow Voldemort to humiliate and kill the defenceless boy.
  3. Harry and Voldemort duel with no interference from the onlooking Death Eaters (like in the book Goblet of Fire).

In scenario 1 and 2, just like in the book, Harry is protected by his mother's sacrifice living on in Voldemort's body, and also his being Master of the Elder Wand. Harry might therefore visit "King's Cross" (like in the book) and Dumbledore would then tell him the truth about Voldemort's soul and Snape's allegiance and send him back to the living world. Hence the plot from the book is followed pretty closely.

However in scenario 2 there are 2 key differences from the book. Firstly, if someone has managed to disarm Harry, then he might no longer have been Master of the Elder Wand, but he may have been able to recapture his wand in the fracas outside Hogwarts (when Neville kills Nagini). Secondly, since Harry did not willingly give up his life to save his friends, he would not have given them magical protection. This might have made Neville breaking free from the Body Bind Curse to kill Nagini difficult, but someone else (or even Harry) could have removed the spell from him. Some of the other allies who fought when battle resumed may have sustained greater injuries.

Scenario 3 -

Voldemort defeated but not killed In scenario 3, Harry would likely have overpowered Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest, just like he did in the Great Hall in the book, as Harry was still Master of the Elder Wand. However Voldemort would not have died as he still had surviving Horcruxes (Nagini and Harry).

This then leads to 2 possibilities. Either the Death Eaters (who still surround Harry) would have killed Harry (which eliminates another Horcrux, however I do not think given this circumstance that Harry would go to "King's Cross" and return, so you would need another means of revealing the true nature of the scar connection), or they don't kill Harry (perhaps they flee, perhaps they surrender, perhaps they simply let him go and they regroup to continue attacking the school, perhaps they tie him up to parade him in front of the school). We do know however that the remaining inhabitants of Hogwarts, who are soon joined by reinforcements from Hogsmeade and the Centaurs and House Elves are able to defeat the Death Eaters if it came to a battle as this happens in the book.

Voldemort's remaining essence would likely have possessed Nagini's body and fled, just like he fled after his first defeat by Harry as a baby. Ron, Hermione and Harry (if he survived) would know that Nagini needed to be killed before Voldemort; Neville would know that Nagini needed to be killed but not why nor any more detail than that. And if he survived, Harry would still unwittingly carry part of Voldemort's soul.

This then would have to set up an 8th book in the series, where the heroes try to track down Voldemort and Nagini, Voldemort tries to regain a body again and maybe experiments with making more Horcruxes, Hogwarts and the Ministry have to rebuild and restore order to the Wizarding World, and the Death Eaters have to decide whether they can continue to follow Voldemort having witnessed his defeat to a child for the second time, this time in person (ok technically Harry is an adult the second time).

Here is the link to his answer on Quora
If you found his answer as brilliant as I had, please upvote it on Quora


I think I finally figured out the canon answer.

Dumbledore never intended that Harry find the truth from Snape.

  • Proof #1: He says so to Snape. As we see in their conversation observed by Harry in "The Prince's Tale":

    “We have protected him because it has been essential to teach him, to raise him, to let him try his strength,” said Dumbledore, his eyes still tight shut. “Meanwhile, the connection between them grows ever stronger, a parasitic growth. Sometimes I have thought he suspects it himself. If I know him, he will have arranged matters so that when he does set out to meet his death, it will truly mean the end of Voldemort.”

  • Proof #2: The very fact of that conversation between Snape and Dumbledore. If you recall, the conversation - And Dumbledore's revelation to Snape that Harry was the last "horcrux" - wasn't Dumbledore's idea! Snape bullied him into it, under the threat of not killing him when needed:

    “Information,” repeated Snape. “You trust him . . . you do not trust me.”
    “It is not a question of trust. I have, as we both know, limited time. It is essential that I give the boy enough information for him to do what he needs to do.”
    “And why may I not have the same information?”
    “I prefer not to put all of my secrets in one basket, particularly not a basket that spends so much time dangling on the arm of Lord Voldemort.”
    “Which I do on your orders!”
    ... “Yet you confide much more in a boy who is incapable of Occlumency, whose magic is mediocre, and who has a direct connection into the Dark Lord’s mind!” ...
    “After you have killed me, Severus—”
    “You refuse to tell me everything, yet you expect that small service of me!” snarled Snape, and real anger flared in the thin face now. “You take a great deal for granted, Dumbledore! Perhaps I have changed my mind!”
    “You gave me your word, Severus. ...” Snape looked angry, mutinous. Dumbledore sighed.
    Come to my office tonight, Severus, at eleven, and you shall not complain that I have no confidence in you . . . ”

So, - especially based on #1 - What Dumbledore had planned (whether that'd have happened or not is a guess, but Dumbledore's guesses have usually been good :) was that Harry suspects and figures out himself that he needs to sacrifice himself for Voldemort. Telling Snape was just a backup plan, that he didn't even have originally.


As a matter of fact, Snape repeatedly asked Voldemort to allow him to go fetch Harry himself when he was summoned by the dark lord at the end. Rowling didn't leave it to chance. Maybe it was a bit loose on her part to thread the critical portion of the story with such a twist, but then again this is how the book turned out. I personally think Snape had a definite plan to hand over the memories to Harry, even though it was never indicated in the book clearly. And he certainly didn't expect to die.


Not essential that Harry gets the memories (although it explains a lot to him), he would have gone to Voldemort to “prevent more people dying for him”, it is this willingness to sacrifice himself to protect others that provides the magic that prevents Voldemort from hurting those loyal to Harry, and allows them to win the battle. If he had not done this then they would have lost (as they had been losing previously). Frankly there are many, many, many more examples of luck and chance altering the course of the story.


"Chance and coincidence" are not always random in the magical world. Two examples:

  1. The luck potion Felix felicis. Genuine good luck does seem to be among its effects - it protected Harry's friends by making sure none of them was 'randomly' hit by a spell during battle.
  2. Voldemort's (suspected) curse on the DADA teacher position. Dumbledore acknowledged the curse but either couldn't or wouldn't remove it. Every teacher we saw losing the job had a different reason to go, and there was no obvious connection in-universe. It was as if the teachers themselves and/or the selection process were/was simply unlucky.

Snape, being a potion-master, experimental magician and close associate of Voldemort, probably understood the principles behind both. If he needed to be the one to tell Harry*, he is likely to have made preparations to ensure it was at least very likely that he and Harry would meet, and not in battle, after Voldemort started to worry about Nagini but before Snape's demise.

Clearly this would be advanced magic and probably not foolproof or safe, but that wouldn't have stopped Snape if he thought it would help Lilly's cause.

*admittedly that might not have been the case, as per DVK-on-Ahch-To's answer.


I have wondered about this before.

My theory is: Severus Snape was not the only person who knew this information. Dumbledore told it to some other people too.

I think he must have done that. He must have expected that Severus might die, or that Harry might not believe Severus.


Were Snape close to death with Harry far from him, he could have sent his Patronus to summon Harry. At this point, Harry didn't yet know who had the doe patronus he's seen in the forest, but was likely very curious about it. If the same doe patronus has appeared and called him, he probably would have ran to Snape. Snape would then give him the memory the same way as he did.

Snape might have used some other method to get the memory to Harry, but this shows he had at least one possible backup route.

  • In the case of an instant death, this wouldn't work. Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 7:12
  • @KharoBangdo: indeed. Instant death is a somewhat more difficult problem. I took your question to ask about both cases.
    – b_jonas
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 16:58
  • We are all just speculating here. Only JKR could answer this. She should have been/be asked in an interview. Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 7:27

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