As @KatieR states in the answer to Why did Snape tell Voldemort when Harry Potter was really going to be moved?, Dumbledore told Snape via his portrait in the Headmaster's study. But how did Snape get in there. Later in the book, when he takes the sword to the Forest of Dean, Snape has been made headmaster by Voldemort according to Dumbledore's plan and they can easily talk, but since Harry was moved before the Ministry takeover, how did Snape - the wanted killer of the previous beloved headmaster - manage to enter his victims office for a little chat??

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    Same way everyone else sneaks into and out of the school.... secret entrances... backdoors. Great find though! Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 0:53
  • having planned Dumbledore's death and knew he only had a year to live, surely he Dumbledore would also have known that he would not live to see Harry's birthday. I do not think it would be much of a stretch for Snape/Dumbledore to come up with a plan to be able to communicate knowing that the plan was not complete at the time of Dumbledore's death
    – BP_Phoenix
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 9:51
  • Was anyone actually aware of Dumbledore's death at that point? I get the feeling that it was kept secret for a little while...and also, who says Dumbledore, in trusting Snape, didn't give him the password to his office before departing so that Snape could access it?
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 13:49
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    @calccrypto He probably didn't get the date from Dumbledore, but that's not what's being asked. Dumbledore('s portrait) told Snape that he had to tell Voldemort the exact date that Harry was to be moved, and also suggests that he give Mundungus the idea for the 6 decoys. The question is about how that conversation took place, since Snape shouldn't have had access to Hogwarts at that point. Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 22:27
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    @Zibbobz Considering it was after the funeral (end of HPB), I doubt anyone was not aware of Dumbledore's death - although I think you would be right, if you meant that not many people knew that Snape was the one that killed Dumbledore (as indicated in the interview with Rita Harry reads in the Prophet, who implies Harry did it, or at least had something to do with his Dumbledore's death). But the staff at Hogwarts knew, and while I agree that Snape could enter the study itself since he was acting on Dumbeldore's orders it still does not explain how he managed to get to the gargoyle unseen.
    – BMWurm
    Commented Jul 26, 2014 at 10:28

5 Answers 5


I actually do believe this is a straight up plothole that JKR missed. So the only way to get around it is with questionable and unprovable assumptions.

And interestingly, the question actually misses parts of problem.

Not only is Snape not headmaster yet, the acting headmistress is actually McGonagall. Only she should have access to the office at this time and at this time she seems to fully believe in Snape's treachery.

It was several minutes before Harry became aware that they were not heading for Professor McGonagall's office, but for Dumbledore's, and another few seconds before he realized that of course, she had been deputy headmistress,… Apparently she was now headmistress … so the room behind the gargoyle was now hers.
-The Half Blood Prince, Chapter 29: The Phoenix Lament

We are also informed earlier, in Order of the Phoenix, that the portraits are "honour-bound to give service to the present Headmaster of Hogwarts." So, Dumbledore's portrait shouldn't even have been able to serve Snape at this time. (although "honor-bound" may not mean "magically bound," and as Nigellus Black showed, they can show at least a certain amount of insubordination if they wish.)

So, It's not just how he got access, it's how he received permission. If we are forced to come up with an explanation I think the only one that makes sense is that Dumbledore prearranged for Snape to have access to the room and somehow made sure that McGonagall would not interfere. She would have surely obeyed postmortem wishes of Dumbledore so, if provided with such instructions, she could give some sort of blanket magical allowance to her room to, and pass on instructions to the portraits to cooperate with, "those who are loyal to Dumbledore."

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    I would even go so far and say that Snape served Dumbledore's portrait, not the other way around. Getting access to the office is partly my point, but - as you said - Dumbledore's portrait could have send McGonagall on some errand to allow for Snape to enter undisturbed. The gargoyle could well have been into it - or Snape knew the "Master-Password" given to him by Dumbledore before his death, so it allowed entrance without the one McGonagall chose as her password. That still forces us to find a way for Snape to enter the school grounds undetected - maybe the same way... but it IS guesswork.
    – BMWurm
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 17:05
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    Any chance Dumbledore had more than one portrait? Commented Apr 4, 2015 at 10:03
  • Where would that be, though? The other headmasters and -mistresses have their second portraits at the place they had their other important achievement (St. Mungo's or the Ministry) or their ancestral home (Grimauld Place) - which basically means that Dumbledore's other portrait would be... well ... at Hogwarts - unless Snape has a second portrait at his own home for this specific purpose, which is not impossible...
    – BMWurm
    Commented Apr 4, 2015 at 10:36
  • Unless of course Severus modified his memory to make it seem like he talked with Dumbledore’s portrait though why not just show Harry their meeting in person like he did with the others is a good question. Back door? Some special magic that made the portrait beforehand? No ideas on how any of that might work but as a world builder those are some of the thoughts that could be used to explain it if elaborated on.
    – Pryftan
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 21:28
  • @HarryJohnston That wouldn't help. The book says: Now Harry saw Snape talking to the portrait of Dumbledore behind his desk. So it seems pretty clear that the conversation took place in the office.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 18:13

This is a great question and the only solution I can come up with is this.

Snape was appointed Headmaster before the information became public knowledge.

We know that following Dumbledore's death that Voldemort's influence in the Ministry and in wizarding society in general was on the rise. Even before Scrimgeour was removed, Voldemort had considerable influence over many of the key decision-makers in the Ministry.

"...as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Thicknesse has regular contact not only with the Minister himself, but also with the Heads of all the other Ministry departments. It will, I think, be easy, now that have such a high-ranking official under our control, to subjugate the others, and then they can all work together to bring Scrimgeour down."
(Deathly Hallows, Chapter 1, The Dark Lord Ascending).

Of course, it's not made clear here who has the final say over the choice of Headmaster but the fact that McGonagall and the other teachers wouldn't have accepted Snape's Headship unless they were forced to do so suggests that it's a Ministry decision. Given the centrality of Hogwarts in the wizarding world, securing it for Voldemort would I'm sure have been a priority for the Death Eaters - even if their wider goal was taking over the Ministry as a whole.

News of Snape's appointment only become public on September 1st.

On the first day of September there were more people lurking in the square than ever before.
(Deathly Hallows, Chapter 12, Magic is Might).

For logistical reasons the appointment of the new Headmaster (and Muggle Studies/DADA teachers) would need to take place well before the start of term. Only then was the information made public with the appropriate amount of ensuing Daily Prophet propaganda. If we didn't have this conversation between Snape and Dumbledore's portrait then I'd have said Snape's appointment would've been made after the Ministry fell. However, based on the information in The Prince's Tale, Snape must have been appointed sometime between Dumbledore's funeral and Harry's 17th birthday to allow him to have that conversation. Therefore, Snape had the freedom of the Headmaster's office and could commune with Dumbledore at will. And, really, it's lucky that Snape was innocent because otherwise having that portrait around would've been seriously awkward.

  • I was pretty sure that Severus wasn’t until you the Dark Lord took over the Ministry. Just like they couldn’t break the protective enchantments surrounding the Order places like the Burrow. A thought: could there have been something planned that somehow created early the portrait that Severus could gain access? They did know after all that he would be made Headmaster once Voldemort took over. Alternatively there was some sort of back door. Some say it’s a plot hole but who knows?
    – Pryftan
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 21:20
  • @Pryftan The portrait was there straight after his death (Harry and McGonagall see it when they go to Dumbledore's office). What's in question is when Snape got access to it. Commented May 14, 2018 at 6:31
  • Right. Well that's fair enough. But I was saying a bit more than that although I'm not entirely sure what I had in mind. I do realise what the question is but there was also more to my comment. In the end I guess it's all speculative at best. Unless Rowling writes about it (which I am sceptical will happen in this case).
    – Pryftan
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 19:38
  • The Daily Prophet article says: was today appointed headmaster, While it is, of course, possible that it was wrong or lying, this seems to indicate that Snape had not been appointed earlier.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 18:11
  • @Alex See my comment on your answer below. Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 11:52

As we know from the end of DH, Dumbledore had completely planned his death from the moment he was infected by the curse from the ring. Therefore, he had ample time to inform Snape of the plan, and as we've seen, Snape is the only person Dumbledore told most of his plans to. Hence, we can see that Snape needn't have visited Dumbledore's office to talk with him, and complete his plan, because he would've already known what to do, removing all need to visit Dumbledore's office, and simply planting the ideas in Mundungus' head for the change in time for Harry's removal, and tipping off Voldy. No contact with Dumbledore needed, until Snape returns as headmaster

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    Welcome to SFF.SE. That is not a bad idea, although, sadly, as can be seen in the quote on the linked question, it is specifically stated in the "Prince's Tale" that Snape talks to "Dumbledore's portrait", which he should not be able to achieve.
    – BMWurm
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 7:51
  • I'm sorry but did you actually read the question or the book, user3418902? It's hard to believe, reading your answer. Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 2:44
  • @MermishEssence But Horace modified his memory about Horcruxes so could Severus have done something similar? That’s a thought I had and looking at the answer here it reminds of it.
    – Pryftan
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 21:23
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    @Pryftan I'm sure Snape could do that but certainly did not. The aim wasn't to deceive Harry but to give him all the knowledge he needed to finally finish the Dark Lord. Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 1:16
  • @MermishEssence You're telling me nothing I didn't know. I wasn't suggesting it actually; I was merely offering another way it could have happened. As for me this never actually bothered me; there are some things that needn't truly be elaborated on. I found this is one of them. It's very easy to break down a story if you're looking to and that takes away the joy. At least it does for me.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Jun 16, 2018 at 0:33

This is admittedly conjecture (albeit based on references), but here's my theory:

Dumbledore appointed Snape as headmaster before he died. Note that this is different from The Dark Lord's answer which also argued that Snape had already been appointed headmaster, in that according to his answer Snape was already appointed by Voldemort's side. As I mentioned in a comment there, that does not seem to be correct because the Daily Prophet article announcing Snape's appointment on the first day of school says (my emphasis):

"'Severus Snape, long-standing Potions master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was today appointed headmaster in the most important of several staffing changes at the ancient school.

My argument that Dumbledore had previously appointed Snape as headmaster is based on the following passage at the end of Deathly Hallows (from Snape's memories):

"Lord Voldemort foresees a moment in the near future when he will not need a spy at Hogwarts?"

"He believes the school will soon be in his grasp, yes."

"And if it does fall into his grasp," said Dumbledore, almost, it seemed as an aside, "I have your word that you will do all in your power to protect the students of Hogwarts?"

Snape gave a stiff nod.

It doesn't seem reasonable for Snape to be able to protect the students if he is not at Hogwarts. It seems very possible that Dumbledore intended Snape to be headmaster in order for him to be able to protect the students (as well as do other things for Dumbledore).

We know a little bit about headmaster appointing from Order of the Phoenix.

The Fat Friar told me …” He dropped his voice conspiratorially, so that Harry, Ron, and Hermione had to lean closer to him to hear, “… that Umbridge tried to get back into his office last night after they’d searched the castle and grounds for him. Couldn’t get past the gargoyle. The Head’s office has sealed itself against her.” Ernie smirked. “Apparently she had a right little tantrum...”

“And what brings you here in the early hours of the morning?” said Phineas. “This office is supposed to be barred to all but the rightful headmaster. Or has Dumbledore sent you here?

We see that the office did not consider Umbridge to be the rightful headmaster despite being appointed by the Ministry. It would not be surprising if the office would accept Dumbledore's appointees as the rightful headmaster.

Thus, if Dumbledore had, in fact, appointed Snape as his successor, Snape would have no trouble getting into the office (assuming he could get to Hogwarts in the first place, or perhaps travel directly into the office).

In fact, to take this conjecture a step further, perhaps Voldemort was aware that Dumbledore appointed Snape as his successor (i.e. Voldemort thought that Dumbledore mistakenly thought that Snape was on his side and thus appointed him), and (part of) the reason why Voldemort appointed Snape as headmaster was precisely because he would be the only one of Voldemort's henchman who could access the office since he was actually the "rightful headmaster".

And when the Daily Propher reported that Snape was appointed "today" it would have been referring to his official appointment by those currently in power. That official appointment may have actually happened that very day even though Dumbledore had already appointed him months earlier.

Now one might ask how McGonagall was able to access the office at the end of Half-Blood Prince if Snape was really the right full headmaster. To that we could suggest that McGonagall was not entering the office as the rightful headmaster (headmistress) but as a regular teacher (though she might not have known it). Even when Dumbledore was alive, other teachers were able to enter his office with the password. As long as McGonagall knew the password she would be able to enter.

  • From the Ministry's point of view, we know McGonagall was acting Headmistress. Neither Snape nor Dumbledore would have any objection to that, so she'd probably have full access to the office in that role regardless of who the office considered the actual Headmaster to be. (Though as you say it might not make any difference anyway.) Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 19:22
  • @HarryJohnston Probably true. (I only brought it up in case someone would ask it as a question on my answer.)
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 19:27
  • I think you're right that both our answers are conjecture. Yours has some nice sources. Good spot with the Prophet announcement. I would say that this was the press release and whether Snape was appointed by a Voldemort-friendly Ministry or by Dumbledore that he would have known about his appointment weeks beforehand. Lots of high profile jobs have weeks of build-up (vetting, interviews etc.) before being formally announced. In some cases the public already knows who's getting the job and the announcement is little more than confirmation. I this going along those lines. Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 11:49
  • As for the gargoyles and access to the study, they seem to have discretion on who they let in and who they don't. See the question I asked about Harry gaining access at the end of Hallows for arguments along those lines. Good argument overall. I hadn't considered Dumbledore being behind the appointment. Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 11:52

All he needs is a picture. The images move from from one picture of themself to another. Even if he's bound to work for the good of the school and it's headmaster, who's going to think they have to say "Don't tell secrets to the man who killed you."??

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. I don't have the books handy to check, but the question is quite clear that the secret was passed by Dumbledore's image in the headmaster's office. The question then is how did Snape get there? If you have any evidence that this reading of the text is incorrect, and the message was passed elsewhere, you should add it to this answer.
    – DavidW
    Commented Dec 28, 2020 at 3:03

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