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In DH, when Harry reviews Snape's memories after Snape is killed in "The Prince's Tale" chapter, he sees Snape telling Dumbledore (

There was a long pause, and slowly Snape regained control of himself, mastered his own breathing. At last he said, “Very well. Very well. But never—never tell, Dumbledore! This must be between us! Swear it! I cannot bear . . . especially Potter’s son . . . I want your word!”
“My word, Severus, that I shall never reveal the best of you?” Dumbledore sighed, looking down into Snape’s ferocious, anguished face. “If you insist . . . ”

Yet... when he's about to die, he - the master of Occlumency and of his own brain - dumps to Harry all his memories, instead of just the critical one Dumbledore needed of him (the information about Harry having the last piece of Voldemort's soul in him), including:

  • All the information and emotions about how his feelings for Lily grew

  • Even the very conversation with Dumbledore after Lily's death that results in the bolded quote above.

Is there any indication in canon (books/interviews/Pottermore) as to whether this was a deliberate action on Snape's part, to include the full information to Harry in his memory dump; or was it not by Snape's design?

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    I always thought Snape was using Harry as a Proxy for Lily; letting all the things he had kept locked away out. Specifically, his looking at Harry's eyes (as his last act), that were so often compared to Lily's so he could confess to her in a way. "When the flask was full to the brim, and Snape looked as though there was no blood left in him, his grip on Harry’s robes slackened. “Look … at … me. …” he whispered. The green eyes found the black, but after a second, something in the depths of the dark pair seemed to vanish, leaving them fixed, blank, and empty." Just IMHO, tho -- no proof :) – K-H-W Apr 20 '15 at 14:15
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    I assumed he was just trying to tell the essential things, however, due to the stress of dying, that his thoughts wandered, and so while telling the essential info, he personally wandered into the reasons for what he did, why he died, and as his control was weakened he shared this memories as well. – Himarm Apr 20 '15 at 14:59
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    Isn't the question title a spoiler? It shows up in "Hot Network Questions"... – mgarciaisaia Apr 20 '15 at 20:48
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    @mgarciaisaia There's a limit to how spoiler-free you can reasonably make titles while keeping them useful. This is an extremely popular book series, and this book was released 8 years ago. We're probably okay at this point. – Chris Hayes Apr 21 '15 at 2:50
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    @ChrisHayes - IIRC the Meta consensus was that age isn't really relevant to spoiler discussions. Having said that, I hate the Hot Questions List with a passion of a thousand suns and therefore couldn't care less if it gets messed up. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 21 '15 at 15:39
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Speculation, but I'm not sure you'll get more than that...

Snape is practical

First, a purely practical reason - he needed Harry to believe him. The emotional connection to Lily is crucial to understanding why Snape and Dumbledore did what they did. Snape can give "what" happened, but to truly convince Harry, he must also give the "why".

Without this it could have been a trick of some kind (consider that after viewing the memories Harry is convinced he must give himself up to Voldemort without a fight. If they were false memories...)

Voldemort, and indeed your typical Death Eater, would never had been able to invent the narrative of Snape and Lily. They don't have the capacity to understand the powerful motivation that love provides, and certainly wouldn't have been able to empathise with it.

"That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped."

Snape is emotional

As K-H-W commented, Snape definitely uses his last moments to see Lily again through Harry's eyes; he know's he's going to die. The memories he gives are his last will and testament, his confession to both his crimes and triumphs. It wouldn't surprise me if, after a lifetime of secrets and lies, he finally wanted someone else to know the truth. In those last moments, I don't think his pride, or hatred of Harry, mattered to him. When dying, all the petty stuff was stripped away, leaving the two most important things in his life - the mission, and Lily.

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    Speculation, but pretty convincing one :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 20 '15 at 15:32
  • +1 I like the point about a final 'confession' - after a life of secrecy. – EleventhDoctor Oct 30 '18 at 8:07
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Just to add something to the already good answers which was potentially missed.

Snape believed that Harry Potter will die when Harry will sacrifice himself to destroy Voldemort's soul.

Severus Snape: So when the time comes... the boy must die?
Albus Dumbledore: Yes. Yes... he must die.
Severus Snape: You've kept him alive so that he can die at the proper moment. You've been raising him like a pig for slaughter!
Albus Dumbledore: Don't tell me now that you've grown to care for the boy.
[Snape casts a Patronus in the shape of a doe, just like Lily's]
Albus Dumbledore: Lily... after all this time?
Severus Snape: Always

So, Snape believed Harry will die. Snape knew(debatable) that he would die too. The sole purpose of his life after Lily's death has been to protect Lily's child. And now that purpose would cease with Harry's death.

The boy deserves to know the truth, the boy deserves to know why Snape acted the way he did, the boy deserves to know why Snape resented & hated him so much yet protected him. The boy deserves to know before he draws his last breath.

The boy's life has been a carefully manipulated lie (according to Snape) by Dumbledore. The boy deserves to know the truth at the end of his life.

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I always assumed it was deliberate. Professor Dumbledore has requested that Professor Snape relay a very important message to Harry, but only in the last moment. However, he had to gain Harry's trust so that Harry would believe him. Professor Snape didn't have much time, so letting Harry see all those memories was the only way he could convince him of his loyalty to Professor Dumbledore.

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IMHO: By the end of DH, Harry clearly wasn't the "boy-hero, everything goes right for me, I never get in serious trouble for rule-breaking, haha, I'm Harry Potter" that Snape had detested (as an extension of his detest for Harry's father). It doesn't matter that Harry never was as bad as Snape had made him out to be. The point is that it had become obvious, even to Snape, that Harry was trying his best to be a true hero.

After the revelations of what a bully James Potter was, I re-evaluated Snape's nastiness toward Harry as preventive measures to keep The Boy Who Lived from turning into his father. Snape saw that Harry was "a great wizard," and wanted him to be Lily's son, not James's son. It reminded me of some aspects of "The Chosen" and "Till We Have Faces." (I can't explain it further without spoilers for those books.)

Of course, Snape was a messed-up person, and motivated at least partly by jealous hatred of James. So he did a lousy job of setting Harry straight. Plus, in Snape's defense, the whole time he was pretending to pretend to pretend to be a good guy. Very confusing; maybe we can cut him some slack.

Anyway, Snape's impending death brought clarity, and ended his need for subterfuge.

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  • The original "tell noone" was before Harry was ever known to Snape, it was from when Harry was 1 year old – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 20 '15 at 16:03
  • @DVK: Yes. So Snape's (real) animosity toward Harry was clearly rooted in Harry being "Potter's son." And since Snape wanted the Deatheaters to think he was still secretly one of them, Snape certainly had plenty of reasons for fake animosity toward Harry (who kept foiling V's plans). – dmm Apr 20 '15 at 16:11
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I agree with what my predecessors told, but in my opinion one thing is missing: When I read the book I got the feeling that Severus Snape cared for what people think of him, no matter how bad he had behaved or acted towards Harry and his friends- at least to some degrees. He never wanted to kill Dumbledore, but he knew that he had to protect Draco Malfoy and hide his true intentions and character. When he and Harry fought against each other later on the night, when Dumbledore died (Book 6), Harry blamed Snape for the murder of Dumbledore and Snape reacted almost insanely and painful:

“Kill me then,” panted Harry, who felt no fear at all, but only rage and contempt. “Kill me like you killed him, you coward —”

“DON’T—” screamed Snape, and his face was suddenly demented, inhuman, as though he was in as much pain as the yelping, howling dog stuck in the burning house behind them — “CALL ME COWARD!”`

Or here, we can see that he cared for Dumbledore and respected him deeply.

“If you don’t mind dying,” said Snape roughly, “why not let Draco do it?”

“That boy’s soul is not yet so damaged,” said Dumbledore. “I would not have it ripped apart on my account.”

“And my soul, Dumbledore? Mine?`

I think that he -among others- wanted finally someone to tell the truth about Dumbledore's death and his true intentions and wanted to stop being blamed for being a murderer and the bad guy.

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Imagine how utterly sad it would be to live your entire life making up for one awful, life altering mistake by giving up any autonomy over your decisions; having to lie to everyone you meet, never being able to let anyone get close to you, being forced to hurt people to maintain your cover - even if you care about them, having to deal with the hatred people feel towards you for all of that... and then dying without anyone ever knowing that the terrible person you've been, the unpleasant person all of that pain turned you into, wasn't really you.

I think that Snape found himself, in his final moments, free at last from the burden of all of those agonies. I think the resentment and bitterness and anger were gone, and he wanted someone to know that he wasn't really that person, that he had loved someone very much and that he wasn't a murderer and that it was pain that made him so hard to be around.

I think Snape would've bestowed those memories on Harry even if he hadn't needed to gain his trust or convey a message to him. He just needed someone to know.

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