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Why did Snape have to place Gryffindor's Sword in a lake? It was cold enough for ice to form, and so Harry's life was in risk (from hypothermia).

It was obvious that Snape had to place the sword himself for Harry to find only after Harry and Hermione were already nearby, so why did he make it unnecessarily difficult to retrieve?

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Because Harry had to retrieve the sword in dangerous circumstances.

In Snape’s memory at the end of the book, we see Dumbledore explain to Snape that Harry has to retrieve the sword in an act of bravery:

“Good. Very good!” cried the portrait of Dumbledore behind the headmaster’s chair. “Now, Severus, the sword! Do not forget that it must be taken under conditions of need and valor — and he must not know that you give it! If Voldemort should read Harry’s mind and see you acting for him —”

Deathly Hallows, chapter 33 (The Prince’s Tale)

What would happen if the sword was left in an easy place for him isn't well defined, but perhaps the sword would retreat to the Sorting Hat if retrieved in such an easy way. It's probably not particularly amenable to being passed around freely.

(The rules defining “worthiness” to use the sword seem quite fuzzily defined, but it's the best we have.)

Indeed, Harry guesses as much when he's about to dive into the lake:

What was it, Harry asked himself (walking again), that Dumbledore had told him the last time he had retrieved the sword? Only a true Gryffindor could have pulled that out of the hat. And what were the qualities that defined a Gryffindor? A small voice inside Harry’s head answered him: Their daring, nerve, and chivalry set Gryffindors apart.

Harry stopped walking and let out a long sigh, his smoky breath dispersing rapidly upon the frozen air. He knew what he had to do. If he was honest with himself, he had thought it might come to this from the moment he had spotted the sword through the ice.

Deathly Hallows, chapter 19 (The Silver Doe)

It's not daring to pick up a sword that's been left lying around.

Snape's memory finishes when he leaves Dumbledore's office to deliver the sword. I assume that he was watching Harry to make sure it was retrieved safely, and would have saved him from drowning if Ron hadn't intervened (but perhaps confunding him afterward so Harry didn't remember).

As for why he picked an icy lake? Snape has to keep Harry alive, but he also hates him and will happily see him suffer.

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    "It's not daring to pick up a sword that's been left lying around." Sure it is. A valuable artifact sword that's just left on the floor is obviously a trap laid by the DM. Either it has a terrible curse, or it will activate some sort of trap or alarm system that alerts the big bad of your presence. – b_jonas Dec 19 '14 at 14:48
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    Severus should just put the Sorting Hat on Harry and put it on fire. – Voldemort Dec 19 '14 at 18:32
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    Seems like leaving it at the Post Office with insufficient postage would be all the "Need and Valor" required. I'd certainly rather go into a cold pond. – Oldcat Dec 19 '14 at 22:18
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    is it just me or is the whole "valorous" part really stupid? jumping into a freezing pond isn't courageous, it's stupid. he didn't even try to summon it or heat up the water or give himself some protection of any sort. there's a difference between being brave and being stupid and making things unnecessarily dangerous/complicated. and the fact that harry didn't just more or less instantly lose the ability to swim and his consciousness shortly thereafter was very unrealistic to me (he was a poor swimmer too) esp given that he had a casual dialogue with ron just after and it was just no big deal. – sara Sep 11 '16 at 18:20
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    @sara he did try to summon it. – marcellothearcane Oct 8 '19 at 13:35
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I was going to put that into comment to @alexwlchan’s answer, but decided to make it an answer instead.

First, Dumbledore’s quote is spot on:

“Good. Very good!” cried the portrait of Dumbledore behind the headmaster’s chair. “Now, Severus, the sword! Do not forget that it must be taken under conditions of need and valor — and he must not know that you give it! If Voldemort should read Harry’s mind and see you acting for him —”

— Deathly Hallows, chapter 33 (The Prince’s Tale)

I however think that it’s implications are different than what alex states. Dumbledore might have meant two things when he said “must”: either it’s a reference to an external rule saying who can take the sword or it’s an emphasis statement meaning to drive the point about Snapes involvement not being known.

The second hypothesis seems to have much more going on for it:

  • Dumbledore didn’t have any trouble keeping the sword though he hardly needed it and it wasn’t exactly valorous.

  • Snape got the sword from Dumbledore - and while I can see how this act was born of need and valor it’s hardly another class of need and valor from what Harry would be doing at that point. At any rate not something to be topped by swimming in a freezing lake.

  • Voldemorts not knowing what part Snape played in the events that unfolded really was of paramount importance. Even if his masterclass Occlumency could withstand the Dark Lords assault (which is doubtful - passive checks he made on every follower could hardly be the top of Voldemort’s game) knowledge of his involvement could be enough to unravel the whole plan regarding the Elder Wand.

In conclusion it would seem that the whole lake business was not for the sake of Harry successfully picking the sword. It’s whole purpose was to fool Voldemort that it was Gryffindor magic at play.

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    Voldemort repeatedly demonstrates profound ignorance of Gryffindor values and magic. I think this answer is far more plausible than the other. – Kevin Sep 5 '16 at 1:50
  • I'm really liking this answer the more I think about it. I have a feeling that Dumbledore also wanted to make sure that no one else got it the Sword. – Möoz Dec 11 '16 at 23:00
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    @Deltharis 'Even if his masterclass Occlumency could withstand the Dark Lords assault (which is doubtful - passive checks he made on every follower could hardly be the top of Voldemort’s game) ' And yet at the meeting of Death Eaters and Voldemort in Malfoy Manor in DH Severus directly looks at Voldemort whereas the other followers look away. So actually Severus can withstand Voldemort's Legilimency. And Dumbledore acknowledges the danger Severus puts himself into constantly too. You're not giving Severus enough credit to his ability in Occlumency. – Pryftan Aug 2 '17 at 22:37
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    @Pryftan I purposefully said "assault" - as in I belive that he could bring much more to his legilimency game if he didn't care about subjects well-being afterwards... It's one thing to check someone and see nothing wrong, and another to know he hides something and trying to pierce the shields to get to that truth. Also Harry, admittedly under special circumstances but still, did pierce Snapes occlumency after all. – Deltharis Aug 6 '17 at 21:43
  • @Deltharis I still don't buy that: that was a critical moment when he needed to be absolutely sure Severus was on his side. And it must be remembered also that there was love involved for Severus so that's another thing that would have eluded Voldemort. As for Harry: sure if you consider that he used a shielding charm (so I remember in the book but Severus stops it fairly quickly). Meanwhile when Severus looks Voldemort in the eyes he is deliberately giving the right information and concealing the wrong information. I think Severus isn't given nearly enough credit. Rowling could answer it ... – Pryftan Aug 7 '17 at 1:49
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He did it out of spite

There have been many enchanted swords in folklore. The Sword of Nuadu, part of the four legendary treasures of Tuatha Dé Danann, was invincible when drawn. Gryffindor’s sword owes something to the legend of Excalibur, the sword of King Arthur, which in some legends must be drawn from a stone by the rightful king. The idea of fitness to carry the sword is echoed in the sword of Gryffindor’s return to worthy members of its true owner’s house.

There is a further allusion to Excalibur emerging from the lake when Harry must dive into a frozen forest pool to retrieve the sword in Deathly Hallows (though the location of the sword was really due to a spiteful impulse of Snape’s to place it there), for in other versions of the legend, Excalibur was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake, and was returned to the lake when he died.

Hogwarts: An (In)complete and (Un)reliable Guide

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