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Exeunt Albus: Setting the Stage

This essay and its companion piece needed to be left pretty much as-is, even if quite a bit of the reasoning in it turned out to have been proved wrong. Of course a fair amount of it turned out to be right, too.

A much earlier iteration of this pair of essays was featured in the printed collection; ‘Who Killed Albus Dumbledore?’ and it seems only proper to retain the connection, even though the online version of the essay has been somewhat further developed after the book was released. There will probably also be a degree of annotation in light of DHs. Although perhaps not a lot of it.

But the overall point of this pair of essays has always been to examine the range of possibilities as they presented themselves at the end of HBP.

Once examined, there turned out to be quite a range.

****

Rowling also turned out to have done it again. Back in 2005 I had put together what I thought was a very clever theory of ‘The Sorting Hat Horcrux’ which finally made sense of the grossly unbalanced view of the whole Gryffindor/Slytherin conflict which we have been fed over the course of the series. She shot it down for Christmas.

In the spring of 2006 I had belatedly jumped onto the Dumbledore-isn’t-Dead bandwagon and crafted what I thought was nice, logical, canon supported interpretation of the events of HBP which explained the multiple screwinesses on display in “the murder of Albus Dumbledore — not!” as it was presented in the book, which she shot down a few days before my birthday.

Since I’d only been riding that particular bandwagon for about 3 months, being tossed summarily onto the roadbed was injurious mostly to my dignity, but it was a shock, nevertheless. Because the account we were given of that death, as it is presented, just plain doesn’t add up.

This second upset was all the more of an embarrassment since the above-mentioned collection of essays that a previous iteration of this pair were rewritten for (‘Who Killed Albus Dumbledore?’ Zossima Press, November 2006) was all but ready to go to press when she made her announcement, and sent all of us collaborators all scrambling to apply emergency patches.

This essay and its companion are a subsequent rewrite, splitting and reworking the original for online posting. Which included another year of further development. Consequently, this iteration no longer quite matches up to the one printed in the book.

I will not, however, be rolling those discredited portions of the original version into the 7th Son collection of exploded theories. The more so in that upon even a fairly cursory review, about 90% of the reasoning is still perfectly watertight. Neither will I be trumpeting the points upon which I turned out to be right. Or, not usually.

And even downstream of DHs a great deal more of it still plays than doesn’t.

****

But I am going to have to admit that I sat there in stunned disbelief reading the relevant passage of HBP. Not, mind you, in disbelief that Severus Snape, to all appearances, had murdered Albus Dumbledore, but that Rowling actually chose to go there.

Y’see, over on the behemoth Yahoo group, HPforGrownups, back toward the end of the 3-year summer, I myself had come out and proposed that Severus Snape would be forced to murder Albus Dumbledore in order to pacify Voldemort. And that Albus might well agree to it! That was all the way back in 2002!

That particular posting was also some weeks or months before my 11th-hour realization that Snape probably had been at the graveyard meeting in Little Hangleton (a realization now proven to be wrong) and that nobody in charge of either side was suspecting Snape of anything (a conclusion now shown to be correct), which seemed to me to eliminate any need for the justification of such melodramatic shows of fanatic loyalty. I’m afraid that once I’ve thoroughly dismissed a possibility it’s sometimes extremely difficult for me to ever take it seriously again.

I’m sure the relevant posts are still in the archives over there, but it would probably be a waste of your time to dig them out.

So, what on earth have we got now? Apart from a royal mess.

****

Well: first off, we really did have to ask ourselves whether Albus was actually dead. At least until Rowling clarified the matter publicly. Which wasn’t until more than a year after HBP was released.

It was not all that difficult to get the impression that he wasn’t. The account of his death was just... wrong.

In addition; by that time, most of the fans were very well aware that that once an element gets used in the course of this series, it seems exponentially more likely than not to be used again. Typically more than once. Neither can it escape anyone’s recollection that one of the major plot elements of PoA was the discovery that Peter Pettigrew had faked his own death (twice, in fact). And so, for that matter, had Barty Crouch Jr, with his parents’ assistance, one book later in GoF.

So another faked death certainly appeared to be liable to be on the menu for Book 6 or Book 7. In fact, a version of one was even waved under our noses. Slughorn’s little welcome tableau when he was overtaken by magical intruders makes a very nice echo of Scabbers’s second faked death in Gryffindor Tower. It doesn’t serve to balance Pettigrew’s publicly faked — and far more significant — death back in ’81. But it did certainly serve to put us on our guard for the possibility of a reprise.

And we had a very short list of really viable candidates for characters who were central enough to the main issues to serve as potential subjects for such a faked death. At a glance, these were only Albus Dumbledore and Regulus Black. Either of whom had custody of information of which we appeared to be in some need.

And then, just to make sure that we clueless Yanks didn’t overlook the possibility; we were also handed a very heavy hint from the U.S. publishers that we really ought to be suspecting that a faked death, or that a death which may be believed to have been faked would figure somewhere in the series conclusion. Just compare the two versions of the following from the chapter of ‘The Lightning-Struck Tower’:

U.K. version (page 552–553):

“No, you can’t,” said Malfoy, his wand hand shaking very badly indeed. “Nobody can. He told me to do it or he’ll kill me. I’ve got no choice.”

“Come over to the right side, Draco, and we can hide you more completely than you can possibly imagine. What is more, I can send members of the Order to your mother tonight to hide her likewise. Your father is safe at the moment..”

U.S. version (page 591–592):

“No, you can’t,” said Malfoy, his wand hand shaking very badly indeed. “Nobody can. He told me to do it or he’ll kill me. I’ve got no choice.”

“He cannot kill you if you are already dead. Come over to the right side, Draco, and we can hide you more completely than you can possibly imagine. What is more, I can send members of the Order to your mother tonight to hide her likewise. Nobody would be surprised that you had died in your attempt to kill me — forgive me, but Lord Voldemort probably expects it. Nor would Death Eaters be surprised that we had captured and killed your mother — it is what they would do themselves, after all. Your father is safe at the moment.”

Rowling is reported to have authorized that addition to Scholastic’s. edition of the hardcover HBP. (Although it should be noted that the added statements were excised from the U.S. paperback edition of the work.) If nothing else, it appears to be a pretty strong indication that we are dealing with a milieu in which faked deaths are to be considered a hot possibility. Particularly after such twists had already played major roles in the resolutions of both Book 3, and Book 4.

(ETA: as it turns out, Malfoy Manor was probably DE Central all through Book 6, and possibly as early as Book 5. Narcissa was effectively a hostage in her own home for the entire time. Had Draco accepted Albus’s offer, and Albus sent anyone from the Order to retrieve her, they would have likely got a nasty surprise. Why Albus hadn’t considered that is impossible to guess. Unless his offer of protection was just a bluff that he knew wouldn’t be accepted.)

****

Added to which, there was something very obviously screwy about the AK which is supposed to have actually killed Dumbledore.

Harry had his eyes tight shut from the pain in his scar when Cedric Diggory was murdered, but I still think he might have registered the difference in the sound of a body simply dropping down from a standing position and one being tossed into the air and dropped from a great height. And he doesn’t seem to have.

Or did he? I’ll be taking a closer look at that particular sequence later on.

With Albus, on the other hand:

“A jet of green light shot from the end of Snape’s wand and hit Dumbledore squarely in the chest. Harry’s scream of horror never left him; silent and unmoving, he was forced to watch as Dumbledore was blasted into the air. For a split second, he seemed to hang suspended beneath the shining skull, and then he slowly fell backward, like a great rag doll, over the battlements and out of sight.”
U.S. Edition (page 596)

All things considered: that is just plain weird.

Still... for months after the release of HBP I thought our best candidate for the “I’m not dead yet” sweeps was Regulus Black. His death was more to the pattern set by Pettigrew’s (i.e., it happened years ago). Plus, we’d all sorts of other sources for discovering Albus’s secrets: there’s the Pensieve, into which we’ve seen a lot of memories placed, but very few removed. There is his Portrait, and there is Aberforth. For that matter, there are also Mad-Eye Moody, Horace Slughorn, Professor Flitwick and Minerva McGonagall, all of whom worked with the man for decades. There is even old Griselda Marchbanks, and Neville’s Gran. On the other hand, if Reggie’s true tale was to be told, he would probably have to tell it himself. Because there didn’t seem to be anyone else around to do it for him.

We did still need to find out whether or not he managed to destroy the stolen Horcrux, at least. And whether his really was the Locket.

So, for several months I suspected that a visit to Ms Doris Purkiss in Little Norton might be in order. Stubby Boardman’s retirement from public life (and the popular singing group, The Hobgoblins), a convenient 15 years before the Quibbler article which “outed” him coincided very nicely with the date of Reggie’s purported death.

Of course, given that Doris was claiming that Sirius Black/Stubby Boardman had to be innocent of the murders in ’81 because he had been with her at the time, it seemed a good chance that she hasn’t seen him in a while...

But by the time the last book was pending, I was no longer so convinced that Reggie’s full tale really did need to be told. (And Rowling had shot down the Stubby Boardman line of inquiry in one of her interviews, in any case.)

Nor was I still convinced that the function of any revelation of a faked death in Book 7 was likely to be for the purpose of giving us an additional source of information. Instead, I had come to the conclusion that the whole issue of Regulus Black was a smokescreen, and that like that street full of Muggles back in 1981, we may have watched Albus and Snape fake Albus’s death right before our eyes. For there was certainly something more going on atop the Astronomy tower than anyone was admitting.

****

Well, Rowling told us; no, he really was dead.

Rowling has admitted in some older interviews that she enjoys the theories that fans come up with concerning her characters and the actions taking place off the radar over the course of her series. She claims that she only takes the trouble to shoot them down when they are leading into a completely blind alley. So if she is announcing to all viewers on a worldwide broadcast that Albus Dumbledore is dead, then it behooves us to take that statement under strong consideration.

Not that she hadn’t lied to us in interviews before, of course. Or since.

But for all that she had now supposedly given us the final word on this issue, she still was being mighty blooming evasive about it.

In her statement of August, 2006 she tells us all that Dumbledore is “definitely dead”. I was sure that by August of 2006, he was. The story, however was taking place a decade earlier. She states that he is “not going to pull a Gandalf”. Well, no, I didn’t think that he was going to show up on a white horse and lead the troops into battle either. But neither of these statements throws any light on the sheer weirdness that she purposely wrote into the scene of his supposed murder.

And for that matter even her supposedly clear statement of August 2006 turns out not to be anywhere near as clear as the newsbites would have had us believe. The following is from a partial transcript posted on the LiveJournal of a fan, as to the actual wording of that statement:

Child: How could Albus Dumbledore really be dead? Harry is so loyal to him and Dumbledore’s the most powerful wizard.

JKR (looking a little emo): “I really can’t answer that question, but... you shouldn’t expect Dumbledore to do a Gandalf.”

“Really can’t answer that”, indeed. If, even then, J.K. Rowling still couldn’t come straight out and say that Albus was dead because Snape killed him, she was probably up to her tricks again.

And it certainly does not make his death, as it was presented to us any more credible. There is still something distinctly “off” about that death.

It finally registered that the real issue isn’t one of whether or not his death might have been “faked”; but the fact that it was unquestionably staged.

****

The whole run-up to the murder of Albus Dumbledore, from the Seer Overheard chapter, through the adventure of The Cave, to the Lightning-Struck Tower, and the Flight of the Prince (U.S. edition, pages 544–610) are Rowling at her most dramatic. In fact this sequence was probably the longest stretch of sustained “drama” in the series up to that date. And, with all due respect; drama is no more Rowling’s OTG (one-true-genre) than romance is. Indeed, while the sequence is more-or-less effectively presented, it does manage to tip well over the edge, and pitches us right into melodrama. In fact, a rather cheesy melodrama.

But the series as a whole is not really a melodrama, is it?

We certainly didn’t think so up through GoF.

I finally had to step back and consider that if this was a conspiracy to falsify the circumstances of Albus Dumbledore’s death, then we have to admit to the possibility that for at least part of the time, everyone actually engaged in the conspiracy was acting. And some of them may just not be all that good at it.

Which raises a lot of other questions and drags in all sorts of related matters. Such as:

We not only needed to ask whether or not Albus was really dead — and we did need to at least ask that — but whether, and by just how much was he taken by surprise by the events that overtook him on the night of his murder. And by which ones, exactly? How much of that performance was under his own control?

Just where does that overheard argument with Snape, that Hagrid reported fit into the picture? That wasn’t a part of the public performance. What were they arguing about?

For that matter where does the Unbreakable Vow fit into this? How much was Snape taken by surprise by the terms of that? Or was he taken by surprise at all? And did he really know what Draco’s mission was, or did he just pretend to, in order to lure the sisters into being indiscrete? and, if that was the case, why didn’t he even let them discuss it!

And just what exactly was Malfoy’s mission and what did his conduct contribute to the equation? Because the mission, and the Vow, and the murder are all so closely interrelated that you can hardly discuss any one of them without having to discuss both the others as well.

So where does the sea cave adventure come into it? Because the sea cave junket is also intrinsic to this puzzle. That wasn’t just an irrelevant side trip, either.

We also need to consider the likelihood of there being at least a “third man” (to deal with the body?) involved in any suspected conspiracy regarding the murder of Albus Dumbledore, because Snape and Albus couldn’t have managed the wrap-up of their performance between only the two of them. In fact there may have been more than one additional conspirator. Or at least a facilitator.

And, right off the top, we need to ask just why they did it at all? Why not just keep dodging that particular bullet as long as they could?

****

Well, once again we need to remind ourselves of one of our main axioms.

Remember: the villain is the story.

We lost track of one of our main players over the course of HBP. We were so wrapped up in following the trajectory of young Tom Riddle that we completely lost sight of the present day Lord Voldemort. What was he up to after he dropped Malfoy into the soup at the opening of the book, and boogied off?

We don’t know, do we?

Was there any purpose, any purpose at all, to that stream of reports in the Daily Prophet of DE raids, Imperius attacks, Dementor attacks, and random violence? Beyond the obvious purpose of keeping people frightened, that is?

It sure doesn’t look like it from where I’m standing. That was all just keeping the pot well stirred.

And, for that matter, after his presumably public ultimatum to Fudge at the beginning of July, and his suspected “personal” murder of Amelia Bones around the same time, was there any report of anyone having caught even a glimpse of him all year long?

Not that I noticed.

At a guess, I’d say he had another one of his Byzantine plots in the pipeline. Probably a big one, too. And it wasn’t ready to be launched over the course of HBP. (Note: Rowling hinted as much in her public statement after Lord Voldemort won the popular vote as most frightening villain in September’s Big Bad Read of 2006.)

And, at a guess: first, he needed a lot more Dementors.

Second: Albus Dumbledore needed to be out of the way. It didn’t need to happen right that moment, because his main operation had any number of other components that were going to take time to develop, and it was going to take him several months to a year to get his ducks in a row before he could launch whatever it was. But it needed to happen. And it needed to happen by the end of the academic year.

That sudden shift of Tom’s attention from Potter to Dumbledore is the kind of thing that ought to have made Albus and Severus sit up and take notice. Which I think it did.

In the first place this was a warning that Tom may have figured out that the kid was his final Horcrux (he hadn’t, fortunately). At the very least, it was a heavy hint that he really might have eavesdropped on Harry’s debriefing after the raid on the DoM, and now knows that he has to kill the boy himself (which does appear to be the case although there has been no overt confirmation of it). In the meantime, he has returned to Plan A. Kill Dumbledore. In fact he has bumped that item to the head of his to-do list.

Lord Voldemort wants Albus Dumbledore dead. Within the coming year.

****

This forces Snape and Albus to consider their options. On matters like the life or death of an individual wizard, Lord Voldemort generally does get what he wants. Eventually. This factor throws an unacceptable level of uncertainty into their long-range plans. They know that sooner or later Tom Riddle is going to succeed in removing Albus from his path.

For that matter, it seems evident that by the time the Black sisters showed up on his doorstep, Snape was already under orders regarding the Headmaster’s death. He had certainly already been ordered by Tom to stand aside and let young Malfoy have a go at him, first. (ETA: By now we know he had his orders from Albus as well.)

Snape was probably not told the details of Malfoy’s orders, but he certainly knew his own. He claims to be one of the few who knows of the plan (very little of it, I suspect, at least officially). And his statement that “He intends me to do it in the end, I think” is probably no less than the truth. So even before the Unbreakable Vow entered the equation, Snape seems to have already been cast as Second Murderer. And he would have reported as much to Albus.

So, consider. Was it likely to be a bigger risk to openly thwart Lord Voldemort for as long as they are able, or to let him think he’s got what he wants?

Or to give him what he thinks he wants? Hold that thought, too.

Are they more likely to be able to benefit from openly thwarting him for as long as they are able, or from letting him think he’s got what he wants?

Have they also got something to gain from the death (in this year) of Albus Dumbledore?

Let’s explore the concept, as a concept, for a few moments.

Whatever it is that Riddle has planned — and it is most unlikely that Snape has any details on whatever is planned — are they going to be in a stronger position to derail whatever it is, in trying to keep Riddle delaying the launching of it by openly thwarting him (and will that even put the launching of his plan off, and how long is Snape’s cover going to hold under those circumstances?) or to let him think that he is the one in control, opposed by only a headless Order and an ineffectual Ministry — with Albus off the radar, and Snape in a position to perform sabotage from deep cover?

In the handful of weeks since Voldemort was forced into the open, the public perception of the progress of the war has drastically shifted. Snape can now do Voldemort far more damage from inside the DEs than he can from the periphery at Hogwarts. Voldemort is down to about 3 dozen human followers and one saboteur can make a big difference in a group of that size. Albus was in a position to watch that kind of thing take place in his Order, over the last year of the first war, thanks to Pettigrew.

This is also probably one of the main reasons that Albus finally gave Snape the D.A.D.A. position; so Snape would have to leave the school before the year was out and Voldemort would not be in any position to raise objections, since he set that situation up himself by cursing the post in the first place. Therefore, Albus used Voldemort’s demand for his own death as a way to facilitate Snape’s removal from the school; abandoning his post before the jinx got out of control and bit him in some undetermined manner.

And I’d say that if this was the case, they left it pretty late — for now that we know that the jinx is real we have to take its possible actions into account in any of our calculations, too. We’ve never seen a D.A.D.A. instructor make it past the 2nd week of June. (Lockhart didn’t make it all the way through May.) Eventually something was going to blow up that would send Snape packing.

— Unless Albus finally took the opportunity to lift the jinx, and get it out of their way. So that Snape’s flight only looked like the jinx leaping into action.

And what kind of a backlash might lifting that jinx have produced? We know that the jinx has killed at least one man already. Could that be what really finally doomed Albus? Is that what it required to lift the jinx? That Albus should take it on himself?

Could the jinx have been tied to Albus’s tenure as Headmaster in the first place? Will his successors even need to deal with it?

(Well, as Rowling informs us, no. It was tied to Tom Riddle’s own life. Once he was most sincerely dead the jinx ended. Of course that information isn’t actually in the books...)

For that matter; was Snape really the D.A.D.A. instructor that year at all? Or did Albus officially reinstate himself as the instructor of record that year? With Snape merely deputized to teach the open classes.

You could make a passable argument that Albus was teaching D.A.D.A. that year, even if to only one student, part time, and the announcement at the opening feast was that Snape would be “taking over” the position of D.A.D.A. teacher. He’s substituted as D.A.D.A. instructor before without ill effect. (Unless getting knocked out in the Shrieking Shack by three of his own students was actually the jinx taking a swipe at him in passing.)

****

Once considered, Snape and Albus may have had a lot to gain by letting Albus “die” on his own terms, and at a date of his own choosing rather than Voldemort’s. There is more going on in this so-called war than just a hunt for Tom Riddle’s Horcruxes, after all.

Speaking of which; Harry is going to need to be assigned his mission a year early. Because Dumbledore simply isn’t going to be around to do it next year.

And, we can see that at the end of Year 6, Harry is still missing crucial information concerning that mission. Information that I suspect Albus was too cagey to share with anyone else, and now there isn’t time. Albus had no choice but to retire to the sidelines and work indirectly if at all. (Would the Albus we thought we were dealing with really have withheld information likely to be so vital as that; “Yes Harry, you can trust Snape, and here is why”, unless he was confident of the information getting to the boy by the time he really needed it?)

And, besides, if Potter does take his mission up now, and does not return to Hogwarts for his final year of school, Albus will not be in the best position to protect him from the vantage point of his position as Headmaster. Any way you slice it, it is time for Albus to leave his nice tower office in the fastness of Hogwarts Castle and do the job he has been putting off ever since Tom Riddle returned from his first exile and started kicking up larks.

Harry is also going to need to have Voldemort’s attention diverted from him, and Albus would probably be able to do a better job of that from behind the scenes, NOT hampered by his high-profile position or his duties as Headmaster of a school. That’s the main thing Albus really sacrificed; his position as Headmaster. And it WAS a sacrifice. He really enjoyed having that job. Tom was definitely not the first unhappy, fatherless boy to regard Hogwarts as his “real” home.

And, besides, Albus didn’t know that he was a fictional character in a series that has only one more book to run. He didn’t know that there was only one more year until the conclusion of this war. He had all of his eggs in one basket with Harry Potter’s name on it and he needed to protect his investment.

He can no longer do it directly. He’s got to distract Voldemort’s attention to somewhere else and let Harry get on with it. He really can’t micro-manage the hunt for the Horcruxes. Back when we still had hopes of a plausible conclusion to this series, we expected that between Albus (or the memory of Albus) and Snape they probably hoped to keep Voldemort busy and distracted, and that if they could manage to encourage dissension in the DE’s ranks and whittle down those ranks a bit further that would be all to the good. (Snape would at the very least be in a position to learn some of the remaining DE’s names that aren’t already known, which would come in handy in the final mop-up stage after Voldemort falls.)

****

Well, okay. As a concept it makes a certain kind of sense. Enough to have made the possibility of a faked death a viable plot option. But Rowling assures us it isn’t the option she took.

And even if she had, we were not going to be in the best position to witness it.

Because, I was sure that regardless of whether Albus Dumbledore was alive or dead, so long as we were viewing the action through the Harry filter, Albus was going to stay quite thoroughly off the radar. We could not reasonably expect to come face to face with him again, as himself, in any form (other than perhaps his portrait), until after the threat of Voldemort was settled. (ETA: In the event, this statement was almost correct. We did not see Albus Dumbledore face to face until the threat of Voldemort’s extra Horcrux was settled.)

****

By the way, Rowling was quite right when she speaks of the requirements of the sort of story she claimed to be telling us. In a coming-of-age, Heroic quest, the old wizard with the long white beard is never going to settle the central problem on the young hero’s behalf. That is something the young hero has got to do for himself. But the old man can do any number of things behind the scenes to smooth the way.

Young heroes on a coming-of-age quest, just about always have to go the last stretch on their own. On the other hand, traditional heroes in just about every fairy tale you care to mention always are given help that they have earned by means of kindness or courtesy to others. Harry will be eligible to receive help and advice for quite a while yet along his Hero’s Journey. And he is likely to need every bit of it.

ETA: The only real problem with this reasoning is that in the wake of DHs, we can see that the story of Harry Potter and the Dark Lord was not a coming-of-age quest at all. It just played one in the movies.

And, unlike in traditional tales, 90% of the help and advice Harry was given along the way was not earned. It was delivered to him by the universe, unasked. This was highly unsatisfactory. But that is an issue for a different essay, on a different day.

****

We also have the faint, rather unpleasant possibility that Albus could not see any way in which Harry could to get out of this tangle alive. I think it is clear that Albus was very much aware that the boy was Tom’s 6th Horcrux. And he may not have known of any certain manner in which the Horcrux might be disarmed without killing Harry. Neither fiendfyre nor Basilisk venom were capable of doing that after all. And we know of no other certain things that would have. His exhortations on Death being no more than the next great adventure, his repeated affirmations that Harry’s greatest strength is his ability to love others — and that he is forever marked by his mother’s loving sacrifice; even the forced witnessing of the demonstration of his own murder may have been in the way of forcing the concept of a possible self-sacrifice into Harry’s head, should such a thing prove necessary.

But I nevertheless suspected that if the Order of the Phoenix was still even a relevant element in this story, the Order knew that Albus was still with them. He sent his message out at his funeral. He still had his organization, and the organization knew it still had its Leader. After a fashion, anyway.

(ETA: Well, that theory certainly didn’t work out.)

Although, at the end of the book, you don’t really get the feeling that Harry regards the Order as particularly relevant, do you? And we are going to be getting the rest of the story from his PoV.

****

Albus was not immortal, nor did he particularly wish to be. To die, or to depart peacefully after seeing his “great work” accomplished, and to pass the torch to others would be perfectly in keeping with tradition. But the fact is that his great work is not yet accomplished.

Still, IF Snape and Albus engaged in a conspiracy to make an all-star production out of Albus’s murder, they certainly did not do it on the spur of the moment, and they did not do it at all unless they felt they had no other, or no better choice.

They certainly took all year to set it up. Nor would they have left anything more to chance than they had to. They had to have gone over every new detail, as it came up, to see how it could be turned to their advantage. At least insofar as they hoped to be able to finish off this phase of the war in a controlled descent rather than an ignominious rout.

Nor is an elaborate set-up leading to a staged death beyond Albus’s capabilities. It isn’t even slightly out of character. In the course of the series as it already stood we had watched Albus Dumbledore orchestrate two elaborate year-long scams which ran over the entire course of both Book 1 and Book 5. (Each of which resulted in a death, if you stop to recall. Even though neither death had been included in the plan.) It is not too much to consider that he may have done so over the course of Book 6 as well, even if this was not a reflection of anything that we had encountered back in Book 2. And, for that matter, there may be another such scam running behind the scenes in Book 7.

Throughout the course of HBP Dumbledore was continually handing out statements that he is old, he is slowing down, he is expendable. His request all the way back in Chapter 3, that the Dursleys continue to give Harry house room for as long as the protection on him lasts has all the ring of a “last request”. He has put his affairs in order. His exit this year, genuine or otherwise, is planned.

****

And of course in order to extrapolate a conspiracy you have to be able to map it to the data you’ve already got to work from, and it has to fit. You cannot arbitrarily adjust events that are known to have taken place. Which means you have to consider the timing. So does the timing allow for a conspiracy between Snape and Albus concerning the matter of Albus’s death?

Yes. It does. Oh, but definitely.

Most of Act I, Scene I of the set-up period took place during the hectic first couple of weeks of the summer. Completely off Harry’s radar.

And just how hectic was it? Well, read on. This chronology has been tweaked and reworked a few times and I think that I finally have most of the events noted and accounted for, in pretty much the proper order. But I can’t be altogether certain to the minute. I don’t think Rowling could be altogether certain to the minute. But it looks like the interval of time between Harry’s raid on the DoM and his arrival at the Burrow was one of the busiest periods in the whole series for the rest of the wizarding world.

For one thing, it sounds like the first thing Scrimgeour did when he got the post of Minister for Magic was to hold his unsuccessful meeting with Dumbledore. This must have taken place only a day or so before Scrimgeour’s meeting with the Muggle Prime Minister. We only saw the first couple of paragraphs of the article reporting his meeting with Albus in the Prophet, but there was no mention made of Dumbledore having a blasted hand in what we could see of the Prophet’s report, and I suspect that there was none in the rest of the article either, or Snape would have hardly needed to feed that information to the two sisters when they showed up at Spinner’s End.

The wording of the chapter opening for the meeting at Spinner’s End also strongly suggests that it is taking place later the same day as Fudge and Scrimgeour’s meeting with the Muggle PM. By which time Dumbledore was already injured. This would also be the same day that Draco was given his mission by Tom.

The events which we know to have taken place during this interval are:

Phase I: taking place after the conclusion of the O.W.L.s in mid-June:

1. The raid(s) on the DoM /Ministry finally admits Voldemort has returned / VoldWar II officially begins.

2. Last two weeks or so of school / calls for Fudge’s resignation begin / recovery of those injured in the raid / school breaks up for the summer.

Phase II: first week of July, approximate:

3. Voldemort’s public ultimatum that Fudge step aside in his favor / Fudge’s refusal.

4. Murder of Amelia Bones / bridge collapse / Giant attack in West Country / attempt made to put Muggle Junior Minister under Imperius / murder of Emmeline Vance in vicinity of Muggle PM’s office.

5. Fudge’s resignation; Scrimgeour’s appointment as Minister / meeting between Scrimgeour and Dumbledore / Kingsley Shacklebolt goes undercover in Muggle PM’s office / mass Dementor attacks.

6. Albus vs. Horcrux — alleged Snape intervention / Scrimgeour’s meeting with Muggle Prime Minister / Malfoy is assigned his mission / Spinner’s End meeting, later the same day.

7. Two weeks after end of term; Albus collects Harry from the Dursleys’ / visit to Horace Slughorn / Harry arrives at the Burrow for the summer.

One could wish that Rowling, who can be pretty good at plotting, were a little more dependable with timelines. Her shaky grasp of numbers erodes our confidence, even when there are no obvious contradictions. But still, HBP isn’t the first of the books in the series which proved to have had a timeline-sensitive plot running in the background and under the surface. She can do it, and when she does, it generally workes. Admittedly, Snape and Albus’s presumed actions are tucked in around the edges of the above to the point that it is almost as difficult to trace them as it is to trace Hagrid’s and Harry’s movements during the infamously “missing” 24 hours.

We also do not know just what actually happened to Emmeline Vance. Given that the first chapter of HBP opens to discover the Muggle PM reflecting on the week past which had seen a bridge collapse, a ‘“hurricane” in the West Country, the peculiar behavior of a Junior Minister, and two highly publicized murders, and we later are told that Fudge was replaced as Minister for Magic only three days before he shows up in the PM’s office to introduce his successor, the whole of the list of events under item #4 seem to have taken place over the course of no more than about four days.

Fudge also tells us that his own constituency had been howling for his replacement for the previous fortnight. Presumably as part of the fallout from the raid on the DoM, which took place immediately following the O.W.L.s in mid-June, which was paired with the wizarding public’s discovery that the Ministry had been falsely denying Voldemort’s return, which had been reported in the Daily Prophet immediately afterward, a week or two before Voldemort delivered his ultimatum.

Indeed, given the rising public demand for Fudge’s resignation, one wonders just what Tom had to gain by that silly ultimatum. Just as with the D.A.D.A. post, he cannot have seriously expected to be given what he claimed to be asking for.

What I think may have been going on, is that Fudge was regarded by Tom to be too potentially useful (he had already unwittingly been very useful) to be thrown into the obscurity which seemed all too likely to soon be the result of Tom’s unmasking. Particularly since Tom still had links to Umbridge through which to manipulate her, and Fudge along with her. (And no, Malfoy had not been his only link to Umbridge, just the closest one. There were others to take up the slack.)

We can see that by the nonsensical ultimatum Tom produced the end result of making Fudge look very good at the end of his term. And, indeed, Fudge was not even dismissed from the Minister’s office, he has merely been demoted, and I honestly thought that we hadn’t seen the last of him. I was sure Tom still had moles in the Ministry (which turned out to be the case. At the very least he had Yaxley), and that Fudge might end up reinstated. Ergo; he was too useful a puppet to be completely dispensed with. This reasoning, of course, went nowhere.

It is also clear that the DEs were very active in the vicinity of the Muggle government offices over that week. By the opening of the story, from the general level of DE activity, not to mention Kingsley Shacklebolt’s current assignment, it seemed that not only the Ministry’s Aurors, but the Order of the Phoenix as well was involved in a concerted effort to engage with them. Since we know nothing of Madam Vance but her name, it is uncertain whether her involvement in the events of that week were due to her membership in the Order of the Phoenix, or as a result of her capacity as a Ministry employee. But the location that her death appeared to have taken place, (around the corner from the PM’s office) strongly suggests that she was probably engaged in some official activity to do with the war. Madam Vance was one of the original Members of the Order. I contend that most of the core of the original Order were people who were known to have engaged in an active resistance to Lord Voldemort. In other words, she was already on the “most wanted dead” list.

What seems most likely, if we agree that Snape is a White Hat, is that Snape had indeed passed information regarding Vance to the DEs. Information that the Order, or Albus at any rate, probably knew that he had passed, or had even designed for him to pass as a part of setting up a sting, and that Madam Vance was unlucky enough to have been captured and killed in the confrontation. We do not know whether the DEs also took losses.

Snape, who was probably still in the north at the time of the confrontation, took what advantage he could of the situation by claiming credit for the information leading to her capture. That he claims credit only for passing information in itself suggests that he was not present for whatever the operation was.

One might suppose that Snape would have had to have still been at Hogwarts when Albus made his raid on the Horcrux. But this seems not to have been the case. Dumbledore claims to have summoned Snape to Hogwarts upon his return, after destroying — or, at any rate, acquiring — the Peverill Ring. Since Snape is known by the DEs to be a double-agent, it would not compromise his cover to receive and respond to such a summons.

We do not know how much Voldemort was told of Dumbledore’s injury, but, even if Snape knows about the Horcruxes (which I suspected), he does not “officially” know of them, so what Voldemort was probably told was that Dumbledore had tangled with something that he could not counter, and had sustained permanent injury to his wand hand.

Snape is unquestionably at his own home at Spinner’s End the evening of the day that Draco was formally assigned his mission. Dumbledore had already been injured by that point. At some point before this date Snape has already been in contact with Voldemort and been given a kernel of information which at the very least enabled him to make his claim of having known what Malfoy was ordered to do, and incidentally to find himself lumbered with Pettigrew in his own household. He seems clearly not to have been at the meeting in which Voldemort actually gave Malfoy his assignment, which is likely to have been earlier the same day that Narcissa and Bellatrix showed up on his doorstep, at dusk. I can not imagine that upon learning of this assignment, that Narcissa — in the state she was in — would have waited even overnight before attempting to enlist help and protection for her son.

So, following the Snape thread in all this:

Snape finishes his duties at Hogwarts, perhaps a day or so after the students leave and returns to Spinner’s End. He reports to Voldemort, accounts for his actions regarding the raid on the DoM (probably claims to have been off in the forbidden forest searching for Umbridge, Granger and Potter who had all gone missing), and gets debriefed regarding his dealings with Dolores, and Dumbledore’s return to the school. He probably also passes along the information related to Emmeline Vance.

In return, he is warned not to get in Malfoy’s way over the coming year, and is sent home with Pettigrew.

****

A digression: it was only, in the week of August 14–20, 2006 that it dawned on me that I had managed to lose track of the villain again. This is always a mistake. In this case the oversight had deflected me from recognizing what, at first glance, appeared to be the probable event that drove just about the whole action of the ensuing book!

But, really, I can’t see that I was alone in that error. I’d not seen the matter posted anywhere else online, either.

And even though my reading of the situation turns out to have been “canonically” wrong, the business still deserves some closer examination. Particularly since what we actually got in canon manages to flag it as yet another of Rowling’s “missed opportunities”. I really do think that what I thought I’d figured out plays more soundly with the events as we were told tham than the explanation that Rowling gave us.

First, my false epiphany:

Yes, and I agree, the conclusion really is all but unconceivable.

But, it really did suddenly seem to be boiling down to the likelihood that nobody — nobody at all — over the whole course of Year 5 — had ever told Voldemort about the loss of the Basilisk and the Diary!

Yes, I know. How could he NOT know?

But, he didn’t. From all of his behavior over the course of Year 5 it is obvious, he just didn’t. And his behavior, in canon, still contradicts Albus’s later statement (in HBP) that he did.

Look at his actions and behavior, and — more to the point — look at Lucius Malfoy’s actions and behavior over the course of OotP after Voldemort had already returned and was back in command. Does it seem even remotely plausible that Malfoy would have been walking about loose if Voldemort is supposed to have known that Lucius had managed to get his Diary taken out of the equation? Particularly now that we know what that Diary was?

Particularly when you compare it to Voldemort’s utter fury and his extraordinary level of determination to wipe the whole Malfoy line out, root and branch, by the opening chapters of HBP, allegedly over no more than a failure to retrieve the Prophecy record. Which by compairason is no more than a piddling nuisance.

I’m sorry, that fury is just not about Malfoy’s failure to retrieve the Prophecy record. Bellatrix was also a part of that failure to retrieve the Prophecy record, and Tom is merely “not speaking” to her.

So what other explanation could there be?

It is all too easy for the reader to assume that whatever the Diary revenant knew or learned is something that Voldemort knows or learned as well. But it isn’t. There was never an open connection between the Diary revenant and Vapormort.

Given how the matter of Lucius’s actions were handled over the course of OotP, I suddenly realized that what must have happened was that once the term broke up and Snape reported for his debriefing, now that Lucius had been packed off to Azkaban Voldemort had demanded that Snape, in his character as a Malfoy family friend, fetch his Diary back. Tom hadn’t entrusted it to Narcissa, after all. And Draco was just a kid. (Mind you, this doesn’t play so well if Tom had already taken up residence in Lucius’s house, but we were never told in canon that he had until the opening of DHs.)

Having to explain what had happened to it must have been the worst spot Snape had found himself in since having to explain to Albus why he hadn’t kept Fudge from summoning a Dementor, and keep Barty Crouch Jr from being Kissed before his testimony could become official the year before.

And the resulting explosion did get reported to Albus. Albus tells us about it.

That’s how Albus could say with such confidence that when Voldemort learned of the destruction of the Diary his anger was “terrible to behold”. He had been given an eyewitness account. Indeed I wouldn’t be astonished to learn that the discovery threw Voldemort into such a rage that the whole hideous 4 days that the Muggle PM and Fudge were mulling over in Chapter 1 were the direct result of a 4-day, Tom Riddle tantrum.

And who would have dared to volunteer that information? Particularly if Tom wasn’t asking for it? For that matter, who could have volunteered the information?

The student body was never told the details. They knew only that the monster had been killed, but not what kind of monster it had been — and Hermione had torn the page out of the library’s copy of the book that referenced it. I don’t think the students were ever told that one of their fellows had been taken over by Lord Voldemort either — and they certainly knew nothing about the Diary. So, wild tales from school wouldn’t have seemed relevant enough for any DE daddies to be passing on. Particularly not tales from a couple of years earlier. Certainly when their Master isn’t asking for it.

The only adults present when Harry related his version of the story were Minerva, Albus, Molly and Arthur — and Lockhart who was completely out of it. (The conversation wasn’t about him after all.) The rest of the Staff seems to have been filled in on the basics later, since Minerva was able to refer back to the matter at the end of HBP without feeling the need to give an explanation, but the Hogwarts staff was hardly going to run tattling to Voldemort. Nor were Harry and his friends. (Although it suddenly sounds like they all had a lucky escape in Year 5 when Ginny threw the subject in Harry’s teeth during Christmas break. Tom must not have been listening in at the time.)

Which leaves Lucius himself. Fat chance of him volunteering it. Narcissa may have known something as well. Dobby did claim to have heard Lucius discussing the matter with somebody. But Narcissa, along with Bellatrix, does seem to think that the Dark Lord’s rage is all due to the failure to retrieve the Prophecy record (or she is putting on a fairly convincing act of believing so), so I doubt she has been approached regarding the matter herself. And Snape would have been ordered not to discuss it with her.

So Snape would have been forced to tap dance his way out of knowing about Lucius having deployed the Diary without “officially” knowing about the existence of the Diary itself.

If Voldemort had mentioned the Chamber of Secrets or the Basilisk, Snape would have had an opening and could have gone; “But Master, the school was under attack by a Basilisk three years ago. Potter killed it. There was something about a cursed book, but I was never able to discover the details.” He can also honestly claim that he never actually saw the ruined Diary himself. Harry had given it back to Lucius before Albus could show it to Snape.

And... Peter Pettigrew.

Right. Him again.

The little man upon the stair, whom everyone forgets is there.

Peter certainly could have told Tom about it. He has to have heard the story himself — probably when Ron and Harry filled Hermione in on what she had missed while petrified. After all, where else did Peter get the information that Voldemort was haunting a forest in Albania (which Harry was told by Albus at the end of CoS)? And he could certainly back up Snape’s story once anyone thought to ask him. But he was totally out of the loop where anything to do with the Horcruxes was concerned. He was never one of the Dark Lord’s lieutenants during the first war. (ETA: um, well, it turns out, not! Peter was *right there* when BabyMort created the Nagini Horcrux. He probably assisted as well. Dang! I think one of the stupidest things we’ve ever done was to take Sirius Black’s unsupported word on anything. Particularly anything concerning the knowledge and acomplishments of Peter Pettigrew.)

And, besides, when you stop and consider it, Peter is a veritable black hole where it comes to information. You can never be altogether sure just what has found its way into his head, but none of it ever comes back out. Not unless harvesting that particular crop of information has been represented to him as his assignment. Anything beyond what he has already agreed to tell you has to be forced out of him. So, no, on reflection, I don’t think that Peter would have told Lord Voldemort about what happened to his Diary. After all, if Peter waited long enough somebody else would do that. And take the heat for it.

****

Well, it turns out, I was apparently wrong.

Because, according to Albus, Voldemort did get the story of the ruined Diary out of Lucius.

Say what?

And Voldemort let him live?

Which is just plain wrong, considering what we know of Tom Riddle. In the first place, if that’s what happened, it had to have happened well before the raid on the DoM.

In fact, in order for Albus to have gotten an eyewitness report of it, it had to have taken place at a time that Severus could witness it. i.e., NOT at any point during the school year. As a Head of House Snape spends every Christmas and Easter break at the school and is only out and about during the summer.

Which means the revelation had to have taken place all the way back before the pervious school year commenced. A full year and a half earlier.

While Harry’s connection to Voldemort was still wide open.

I mean, what are the odds that something like that could have gone off without Harry feeling a reaction?

Well, it you can make an argument that he did.

We never were given an explanation in canon of the scar attack Harry had the night before the kids all boarded the Hogwarts Express and left for Year 5. And that attack was a bad one. One of the worst of the attacks he ever caught from long distance. But there was so little attention paid to it by the events in the story that it is hard to believe that it was truly relevant. Unless Rowling had intended to follow up on it, and the book just got so long that she dropped it.

If you are mentally limber enough to do the sort of backbends required you can sort of event some suggestions around the edges of OotP that Tom had intended to deploy the Diary over Year 5 himself, and raise some hell on Albus’s turf at long-distance, without any personal risk.

But it sure makes a lot more sense that he would have wanted that Diary in his hand and ready to deploy the minute that he turned his attention from killing Potter to removing Dumbledore. I suspect the Diary was always intended as a method for removing Dumbledore. That’s why Lucius used it.

After the Prophecy record debacle he would have probably given it to Draco and told him to write in it.

But no, Albus says (two years after Rowling had written OotP — which if what she claims is true, she hadn’t reread) that Tom got the story of the loss of the Diary out of Lucius himself. So we have to invent reasons for why Tom was suddenly acting so far out of character as to let him get away with it.

The only possible explanation I can come up with is that by that time Voldemort needed Malfoy for the sake of his connections to Fudge too much to be able to give him the punishment he deserved. And it makes you finally wonder whether when Malfoy saw the DoM mission going pear-shaped he didn’t opt out and get himself captured on purpose.

But I still think my first interpretation, that the whole business only surfaced after Lucius had been locked up, would have given us a better explanation for the behavior we were actually told about, which was reported to us at the opening of HBP.

And, frankly, by this time, to deliberately overlook Albus’s statement that it was Lucius who told Tom the story of what happened to his Diary is embarrassingly easy, even if it didn’t take place over the course of DHs. In fact, I’m sure Rowling has completely forgotten that she ever wrote anything of the sort.

****

So. Back to our scheduled program: Snape returns to Spinner’s End lumbered with Pettigrew. Snape cannot help but smell some kind of a trap at this development. And for that matter he cannot help but know that Voldemort’s wrath is about to descend upon the Malfoys. Which certainly explains how Snape could claim to know about Malfoy’s assignment by the same day Malfoy was actually given it. Even if he wasn’t there.

With Pettigrew underfoot, communications between Snape and Albus must have been a bit strained. At the very least, Pettigrew would have recognized a Patronus Messenger for what it was, so they needed to be sparing of any such communications.

But I think that the development of Malfoy’s probable assignment was important enough that Snape managed somehow to get the message out. And that may have been what made Albus decide to finally take the Ring (and the Locket?) out of the picture.

With such results and repercussions that resulted in his decision to make a production of his own death at the end of the year.

Or, in short: we have just been handed yet another Book 6 = Book 2 parallel. The entire central issue of the book appeared to have been precipitated by Lucius Malfoy having deployed the Riddle Diary without permission.

****

By the time Scrimgeour was having his interview with the PM — with whom he spoke a couple of days after his altercation with Dumbledore — Dumbledore had dealt with the Ring, which I suspect he had almost certainly located earlier, but left in place in case Voldemort decided to check on it after his return. Dumbledore may also have intended to finally deal with the Locket from #12, and only now discovered that it had been discarded on Sirius Black’s authority. It is possible that the discovery that the Locket had gone walkabout is what prompted him to finally deal with the Ring — before it wandered off to parts unknown, as well. And, not being Kreachur’s master, Kreachur was able to stonewall any questions to the point that Albus concluded that he knew nothing more about the matter.

Like I say, my respect for Albus’s skills in interrogation is not as high as he would have liked.We’ve only seen him with people who are convinced that they ought to tell him something.

Or drugged, and then he seems to get no information that can be used for anything.

In any case: Dumbledore makes his raid on the Ring, and allegedly is gravely injured. He manages to return to Hogwarts and to summon Snape. Even if Peter saw Albus’s Patronus at that point, the summons was nothing that couldn’t be explained by Snape’s function as a spy.

Snape responds to the summons, manages to save Dumbledore’s life — assuming there really was a deadly curse on the Ring. If we are dealing with falsified information, we need to keep in mind the possibility of intentional misdirection on the part of the conspirators. But it seems most likely that the Ring was indeed cursed.

However, if there was no conspiracy to stage a murder before this date, this is probably the point at which the issue came up. They had to adjust their plans for the upcoming year in consideration of the likelihood that Dumbledore was now on borrowed time. If Albus had only a year or so to live anyway, it is time to take some risks.

And in light of Voldemort’s new demands, to ultimately give Tom exactly what he is asking for may be no longer all that much of a hardship. Albus has certainly more in the long run to gain from orchestrating his own murder than he has from peacefully dying in his own bed.

Snape had already been given some warning that he is being called off the ever-pending job of assassinating Dumbledore. Reassignment will certainly go to Draco Malfoy (who else, after all, is likely to be at the school and in a position to do it?). Snape definitely has to have been warned against interference at some point.

It is entirely possible that there was an earlier plan to fake Albus’s death in 1981 (which I suspect is why Snape was sent into Hogwarts in the first place; to assassinate Dumbledore on Voldemort’s signal). If so, those plans are re-examined and revised. By the end of the academic year Albus will indeed be dead.

Snape also fills Albus in more thoroughly on the fact that he now has Pettigrew underfoot and expects some form of “test” to be thrown his way.

It is possible that Albus’s plan to recall Slughorn and finally give Snape the D.A.D.A. position is also discussed at this point, but Albus may have made that decision on his own and not told Snape about it until after he had Slughorn’s agreement. Or that may have been a further development after the Unbreakable Vow was put in play. Snape certainly gives every appearance of being unaware of such a plan the evening the Black sisters showed up on his doorstep. Although that in itself is hardly conclusive evidence of anything.

In any case, Snape returns to Spinner’s End; reports Dumbledore’s injury, probably by Floo in Pettigrew’s hearing. He may even exaggerate its extent. He can truthfully say that he does not know the cause, beyond the fact that Albus tangled with a curse that he could not fully counter. It should be noted that the news of Dumbledore’s injury soon is also deliberately fed to Narcissa, Bellatrix and the DEs. It is later put on public display at the Start-of-Term feast as well. Snape & Albus clearly want the DEs (and everyone else) to believe that Albus has been weakened.

When Narcissa turns up on his doorstep, perhaps as soon as the following evening, Snape knows that the assassination of Albus Dumbledore has indeed been reassigned. He also realizes that Narcissa’s visit explains Pettigrew’s presence in his house.

****

Before we get any further ahead of ourselves, however:

We need to take a step back at this point and reconsider a few peripheral details which we have been taking a bit too much for granted, and which are fundamental to whatever the motivation underpinning their whole production was.

We also need to take a second look at one of those contributing factors which is routinely brought up whenever we postulate that Albus’s death was both genuine, and voluntary.

Namely, the blasted hand. I am going to have to admit that I was not at all satisfied regarding that blasted hand. Albus never gave us a satisfactory answer regarding what happened to his hand, and the explanation that he finally did give us was all too much in keeping with some of his other “likely stories”.

Plus, for all that it must have looked terrible, after the first evening we saw it, we never really got the feeling that he had a problem with using it. It was his wand hand, for heaven’s sake! If he had blasted it beyond recovery, you would think that it might have slowed him down at least a little. Instead, apart from one comment to Harry in Chapter 3 that it was “a little fragile”, and some clumsiness opening a bottle the same evening, the injury didn’t seem to inconvenience him at all. And back in Chapter 3 the injury would have still been quite fresh.

I do still tend to think that it is more likely than not that he did have a curse blow up in his face when he destroyed (or took hold of) the Ring (or lifted the jinx on the D.A.D.A. post) than that he injured his own hand on purpose — although given the way that once an element has been used in the series it generally gets used again, we can’t automatically dismiss the possibility. Pettigrew certainly injured his wand hand on purpose (twice).

IF the injury was sustained acquiring or destroying a Horcrux, Albus may even have come very close to dying from it at the time. And it may very well have only been Snape’s timely intervention which saved his life at that juncture. But I am not convinced that those injuries were permanent.

And he certainly seems to have intended that the news of his “disabling injury” be circulated within the DE circles as quickly and as widely as possible.

In retrospect, IF we are dealing with a staged death here, and a build-up of several months of intermittent acting, by the start of the school term, the blasted hand may have been suffering from not much more than purely cosmetic damage. It may, in fact, have been a piece of “performance art”.

Yes, in other words, I have finally come around to accepting that some variant of the “Stoppered Death” theory which has been floating around the fandom since HBP came out may well be in play here.

At this point the basics of that particular theory seems to fit all of the requirements. And Albus’s tower statement of; “Well, I certainly did have a drink... and I came back... after a fashion,” is an anvil-sized hint that Rowling has just handed us a clue to something. Although we can’t be altogether certain just what.

Not that the theory itself is required. The matter could be exactly what it claims to be, just unconvincingly handled. But theories are fun. So let’s play with it for a but. I won’t take long. I promise.

I am inclined to think that Albus was well aware that he was in the process of dying before he left the castle that last evening. For that matter, I am inclined to think that by that evening he had already arranged everything that he possibly could about the timing of his exit. But his time had run out.

To that point, his death had been “stoppered”. It wasn’t any longer.

But it wasn’t Snape who had stoppered it.

It was his late partner, Nicholas Flamel.

****

At the end of PS/SS we were told that Flamel and his wife had enough of the Elixir of Life stored to put their affairs in order before they died, and Rowling stated in one of her interviews a few years later that the Flamels are dead now. But c’mon, they’d been without the Stone since the previous summer, when they agreed to let Albus use it for bait. How often do you need to take the stuff?

They must have made sure to have had a considerable stock of the stuff put away before they turned the Stone over to Albus. And at that, there was always the risk that Voldemort would somehow manage to steal it. So they couldn’t have been absolutely certain of getting it back.

I also think that the Flamels must have done a lot of thinking and discussing the matter between themselves over the year that the Stone was at Hogwarts.

I think that perhaps they ultimately came to the conclusion that their lives had devolved into a matter of habit, and that perhaps two-thirds of a millennium was quite long enough. I think their affairs were already in order when Albus finally went to beg them to permit it to be destroyed. And it may have been the Flamels themselves who were the ones to suggest that particular solution to the problem.

And, if that is the case, they wouldn’t greedily hang around to polish off their final batch of Elixir, to the last drop. They left it to Albus, to be used as emergency “insurance”.

If Albus was being straight with us about the curse on that Ring, then Snape slowed the progress of the curse long enough (as he did later, with Katie Bell) to keep Albus alive until he could take his first dose of the Elixir.

Rowling even *makes a point* of bringing the subject of the Elixir of Life back up in this very book and having Albus explain how it works and what the disadvantages of using it are. The connection is just sitting there waiting to be made.

But no one seems to have done so until Rowling assured us that Albus was dead.

Of course I also really do tend to think that the fans may be making rather more of the phrase “stoppered death” than the canon reference really warrants.

After all, Snape is not the kind of blowhard who has a track record of making empty boasts.

If he tells his First years that he can teach them to “put a stopper in death”, then it stands to reason that something which conforms to this description is a part of the standard Hogwarts curriculum. Even if only once they get to NEWT-level (“— if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.”)

Brewing fame and bottling glory are descriptions that can probably also be stretched to apply to some of the more advanced potions taught at Hogwarts as well. Again, we only seem to have gotten a glimmer of that sort of thing once we reached NEWT-level. But then I think that teaching teenagers the art and science of brewing fame and bottling glory would be right up Slughorn’s alley, too. Every bit as much as Snape’s. More so, even.

So what puts a stopper in death?

Well, what is one of the first things that 6th year potions students find themselves learning to brew?

Antidotes.

We didn’t come up against anything like antidotes in the lower grades. Or, at any rate, we never came up against antidotes with the kind of complexity that Golpalott’s law entails. And I suspect that what “putting a stopper in death” refers to is exactly this specific skill.

So the truly ornate fan theories regarding “stoppered death” (and some of them get very baroque) are probably superfluous to the requirements of Rowling’s story. The concept still looks pretty sound, but the details need a lot of scaling back.

Albus’s behavior, and his statements over the course of Book 6 were a perpetual reminder to everyone of his own mortality, and I have finally settled into the camp which is convinced that his death had been “stoppered” by some means, at least temporarily. And that he knew that it was temporary.

Which makes any theorizing over the staging of his actual death rather simpler upon the whole. It also makes the whole issue of the timing of events over the year a lot less random, since it was all more directly under Albus’s control. In fact, the timing of the big event was entirely under Albus’s control.

Yes. HIS control. Entirely. Or at any rate there are enough links (or potential links) in place to read it that way. Just watch:

****

By that point in the series, 6 books into a series of 7, any serious theorists were pretty much obligated to cut their cloak to fit the cloth, and to strictly work with what Rowling had given us over the course of the series. At 3300 pages that ought to be no hardship.

Even the certainty that she had deliberately held back at least a few crucial pieces of information for Book 7 was no longer sufficient justification to theorize magic that had not already been explained, or at least introduced to us in passing.

There are a limited number of methods of forestalling death that had been brought up and explained to us in the series to date:

There was the drinking of unicorn blood, which will preserve the life of the body at the cost of harm to an innocent, and which caries the price of cursing the life so saved ever after. I think we can all agree that Dumbledore would have found this an unacceptable option.

There is the creation of a Horcrux, which prevents true death, even though it does not necessarily preserve the body itself. It does this at the cost of the death of another person and the mutilation of one’s immortal soul. Dumbledore would have found this option even less acceptable.

And, finally, there is the Elixir of Life, produced with the aid of the Philosopher’s Stone which will extend one’s physical life and well-being indefinitely, for as long as you continue to drink it. The cost here is the monumental effort of acquiring the wealth of knowledge, and the purification of spirit which one must undergo in order to create the Philosopher’s Stone from which the Elixir is generated, and moreover a dependency upon the Elixir itself once one begins to drink it. For once you start to do so, when you stop, you die. Of the three methods, this is the only one which Albus would have considered acceptable for delaying his own impending death.

Which means that he and Snape did deliberately plan for Snape to be the one to actually kill him. The Unbreakable Vow was almost certainly an intrinsic component of the plan. Snape had to kill him, and Snape had to have a reason to kill him, a reason that was known. Snape did lead Narcissa to demand it, and he would have done it anyway. The Plan required that Albus be murdered, before witnesses.

But you cannot time the failure of something like the Elixir to the minute. Whoever killed Albus had to be prepared to cover the possibility that their timing might be off, and he might die too soon.

It also means that even though Albus could not time his demise to the exact day, from the beginning of the previous July Albus had had a ballpark figure of about how much time he had left.

And he messed with Draco’s mission to ensure that the attempt would take place on his signal, and not one minute before.

Oh.

Yes.

He also knew that facilitating an invasion was part of Malfoy’s assignment.

****

The next major item to crop up in our chronology is Malfoy being assigned his mission. And this particular item requires another considerable digression. Please forgive the delay; we will be working our way back around to Snape and his part in the matter, eventually. (I know that’s all some of you are really interested in.)

Snape was clearly not present when the assignment was given to Malfoy. For that matter we do not know for certain whether Narcissa was present at that assignment, either. Draco may have been privately escorted to the Dark Lord by his aunt Bellatrix, and boasted of it to his mother afterward. Voldemort is bound to be in hiding somewhere. His “striking” appearance must limit his movements considerably, and young Malfoy cannot Apparate on his own yet.

It is, of course, also possible that Voldemort was hiding in Malfoy Manor itself throughout Year 6, he certainly was the summer following. Nor did we know for certain whether Narcissa was officially a Death Eater herself, or whether she was only a supporter and the wife of a Death Eater. Indeed, we’ve all the more reason to believe that Tom had moved in with the Malfoys as soon as Lucius was off the board in order to keep a closer eye on them in case either of them decided to bolt. Besides their place was probably the grandest of any of his followers’ holdings. He would have considered it his due.

Rowling claims that Narcissa was not a DE herself. Of course she didn’t tell us this in the books.

Which raises the question of whether Draco, himself, was officially a Death Eater by the opening of HBP.

I agree that it is certainly possible that Voldemort made an exception in Malfoy’s case. The whole business of Malfoy and his mission is exceptional. But Harry has a tendency to see Death Eaters under the bed whenever he is dealing with people he dislikes. And I’m not sure we can take Harry’s reading of the matter at face value.

My own suspicion is that over the course of HBP Malfoy was not officially a Death Eater yet, and at the time I speculated that Tom didn’t ever intend that he ever be forced into/given the opportunity to become one. Voldemort understands the uses of carrots as well as sticks. And, besides; why should he go to the trouble of marking the kid, when a mark would make it easier to expose him and see him safely off to Azkaban before he manages to get anything accomplished?

Voldemort also expected the kid to fail. Indeed he intended the kid to fail. Indeed, he set it up so that it would be widely believed by weveryone connected with the DEs that he had failed. So why mark him? The mark is a summoning device. This kid hasn’t learned to Apparate yet. And he won’t be old enough to get an Apparition license until next June. If Voldemort has anything to say in the matter Malfoy isn’t going to live long enough to get an Apparition license. Why does he need to be marked?

Even the fabled “Dark mark-reading barrier” that the DEs allegedly put on the staircase to the top of the Astronomy Tower during the battle in the corridor is an inconclusive piece of evidence. Indeed, it appears to be no more than yet another of Harry Potter’s unsupported flights of fancy. Malfoy got to the top of the stairs before the barrier went up, and it had presumably already been demolished by a stray curse before Snape bustled everyone back down that staircase.

(And, for the record, I think the “received interpretation” of that barrier on the staircase — i.e., Harry’s interpretation — is a complete red herring and that what was going on there was something else entirely. I’ll get to that later, too.)

No; I think that the whole mission was presented to Malfoy as his initiation assignment. IF he pulled it off, Voldemort would induct him into the circle a year early. Malfoy no doubt felt he was being honored.

Of course, if he failed, he, and his mother, would be killed.

All of which raises the related question of just what Malfoy was showing Borgin in order to get his cooperation over the matter of the cabinets. Frankly, I do not think he was flashing a Dark mark. (And I certainly do not think he was flashing a werewolf bite.)

We have a couple of rather better possibilities, after all. A missive from a former sales associate named Tom Riddle, might certainly do it. Tom has long-standing connections with Borgin & Burkes. And he has reached a position where you simply do not refuse his requests. Regardless of whether or not you are a Death Eater (which we do not know about Borgin). It’s just so very bad for business. To say nothing of your health.

****

A far more interesting line of inquiry, however, concerns those lacquer cabinets, themselves.

They are a “paired set”.

One of them is at Hogwarts.

It has evidently been there for quite some time. In fact, it was presumably undamaged and still fully operable until Harry’s 2nd year, when Peeves smashed it at Nearly-Headless Nick’s urging in order to get Harry out of a detention.

The other is in a shop in London.

Now that we have the Black Family tapestry sketch to work from, what I rather suspect is that those cabinets were originally Headmaster Phineas Nigellus Black’s emergency route home to Grimmauld Place.

Phineas’s daughter Belvina married a Herbert Burke. Caractacus Burke, the founder of Borgin & Burkes might have been her father-in-law, brother-in-law, or some other reasonably close relative. I think that after her father died (and probably her Aunt Elladora as well), Belvina laid a claim on the London cabinet and her brother Sirius, now head of the family, let her take it.

The Black family tapestry sketch claims that Belvina lived until 1962. Since very little depends upon that date, and there is nothing to contradict it, we may as well accept that at face value. We do not know how long the London cabinet has been in the shop. We didn’t notice it when Albus interviewed Caractacus Burke, anyway. 1962 is well after the period that Tom Riddle worked there. He may not have even returned from his first long exile by then. He probably never knew about the cabinet or its abilities, and there is no way that he could have learned about them if no one has ever thought to volunteer that information. (Had he known of it, don’t you suppose he would have used it?)

And, apparently the cabinets have not been in use for decades, or you would think that either Dippet or Dumbledore might have done something about such a potential security breech.

****

On this head, the actual risk to Hogwarts security was probably not quite as great as it at first appears. The cabinets, when operating properly, almost certainly require a specific spell to activate the transfer (enabling it to serve as storage or a display case when not needed for transportation).

Harry had climbed right into the London cabinet back in CoS to hide from the Malfoys and all but completely closed the door, and nothing whatsoever happened. Not a twitch.

At that point, the other cabinet was still intact and the two were fully operational. The Hogwarts cabinet wasn’t smashed until later that year.

Ergo: just stepping into the cabinet isn’t going to activate the transfer, if the two cabinets are operating correctly.

But when the Hogwarts cabinet was smashed someone put it back together physically, but no one repaired the charms. Consequently the two cabinets were no longer communicating with each other, and the damaged one was likely to engage the transfer function at random. Causing things to disappear and reappear at some undetermined time later. It quickly got the reputation of being a “vanishing cabinet”. Which is why the twins stuffed Montegue into it. In hopes he would vanish. He did.

(ETA: Frankly, I’d call that attempted manslaughter at the very least, myself.)

Montegue claimed that he could sometimes hear conversations from the shop, but was unable to make himself heard by anyone there. The two cabinets were not communicating with one another.

But when things had been working properly, you needed an activation password or incantation to make the transfer engage. That’s why Dumbledore (and Dippett) could leave the Hogwarts cabinet out in a public area for decades without taking any further security measures. No one had the activation password.

Except for a few members of the Black family. Who had forgotten, or not realized that those cabinets had originally been theirs, or that one of the cabinets was now in the shop.

I think that’s what Draco was waving under Borgin’s nose. He had somehow got hold of the password. And he was using that to strong-arm Borgin into helping him fix it.

Until that point Borgin probably didn’t know the other cabinet was at Hogwarts, or that it was damaged. He may not even have known that he had one of a pair of highlly valuable magical transfer cabinets just sitting right there in the shop. If Caractacus Burke was just Belvina's brother-in-law, he may have not ever had the password himself. And Borgin, learning that the other half of the pair was damaged, and that he was flirting with trouble from the Ministry for displaying a trip to nowhere in his shop, might have been convinced that it really was in his own best interests to comply with the kid’s demands. And then the kid dragged Greyback into the equation as well, for good measure.

My contention is that those cabinets had probably figured in some Black family anecdotes, which Draco may have learned about as a small child. Either from his mother, or even the former head of the Black family, his great-uncle/distant cousin, old Arcturus Black, who was alive until the year that Draco started Hogwarts, and Arcturus was certainly old enough to have remembered his own grandfather Phineas Nigellus. Admittedly, this is assuming that Arcturus Black remained in contact with any of his cousin Pollux’s descendants which is far from certain. But, in any case, Malfoy manifestly already knew about such paired cabinets when he heard Montegue’s story. That’s why Montegue’s story rang a bell for him in the first place.

And either Narcissa, or Aunt Bellatrix, was able to confirm that yes, there was a family story of great-great(-great)-grandfather Phineas Nigellus having once had a pair of such cabinets when he was Headmaster of Hogwarts.

The very fact that Malfoy was visiting Borgin to secure his cooperation regarding the London cabinet well before the school year started is proof enough that getting a group of Death Eaters into the castle was an intrinsic part of his mission. I say that what he was showing Borgin to secure that cooperation was probably something to invoke his family’s claim on those cabinets, and to make it clear that he knew the secret of the cabinets’ intended function. He was also clearly questioning Borgin about the damage the Hogwarts cabinet had sustained and asking for advice as to how to repair it. After all, neither cabinet is of value as anything more than furniture if they do not work as advertised. And mere furniture is not what B&B specializes in. Such cooperation is to Borgin’s material benefit.

****

Which brings us to the agenda item in all of this that I have a real problem with: Voldemort’s demand that Malfoy get a squad of DEs into the castle.

Why?

Yes, indeed. Why send a pack of outsiders into the castle? This was clearly a part of his original orders, or Malfoy would hardly have been slipping off to Borgin to give instructions not to sell or move the London cabinet before the school year even started. But what was the point?

If the mission was really a legitimate test of the kid’s mettle, Voldemort would have told him to do the job entirely by himself and that if he ended up needing to make a run for it, to go to Snape who was already in place. Never mind bringing in outsiders. They’d only complicate things.

Instead, one of the major snags and delays of complying with the assignment was arranging for some way to get the outsiders in.

And I really don’t think that they were sent in to “help” Draco. They really weren’t all that much help, were they?

Draco could have gone up to the top of the tower to wait for Dumbledore’s return after any of his periodic absences much more easily on his own. The Headmaster was not being particularly secretive about those absences, and he cultivated a predictable practice of returning to the castle by always flying in to the top of the Astronomy Tower — a known favorite haunt of the Slytherin House ghost. The Baron isn’t nearly as chatty as Sir Nick, but that particular bit of information regarding Dumbledore’s habits doesn’t need to travel very far to be of assistance to Malfoy, does it?

Draco no doubt believed that the Death Eaters were sent as his back-up, and to cover his retreat. But if he had managed to lie in ambush and kill Dumbledore without witnesses he could have just gone back to the Slytherin dorm and if it later looked like there were suspicions flying, tried to slip out to Hogsmeade and used Rosemerta’s Floo the next day. He knew about Snape’s Unbreakable Vow to protect him by Christmas. Snape would have been obligated to cover his retreat — if a retreat was called for.

For that matter; just when over the entire preceding 5 books had Malfoy ever refused Snape’s praise, support, or assistance? And if he was suddenly doing so now, doesn’t that suggest that he has been given a compelling reason?

I began to suspect that the invasion component of that assignment was set up as a potential double-cross.

Malfoy — and all of the crew which was sent to “help” him were regarded as expendable.

The whole maneuver was a feint.

I think that, yes the DEs were sent to serve as witnesses to the success of the mission. If they managed to get that far. But if they got that far, they were also expected to be prepared to finish off Dumbledore, and to execute Malfoy then and there, if he failed.

And, quite possibly, to execute him even if he had not failed. That crew were assigned by Voldemort himself. They were not sent by Malfoy’s mother. Narcissa would never have sent Greyback. I don’t even think that Bellatrix would have sent Greyback, unless she was told to. And you will notice that she was not sent herself.

That crew were not Voldemort’s most loyal followers. They were not his most competent followers. They were his most vicious followers. With Greyback invited along (or, hanging around Borgin’s and inviting himself along) just for the fun of it.

Voldemort expected Malfoy to fail. He wanted Malfoy to fail. It is not beyond what we know about the former Tom Riddle for him to have taken steps to ensure that it should be assumed by everyone that Malfoy had failed. And Tom would send that message back to torment Malfoy’s father. This is another vote against the reading that Malfoy had already been formally inducted into the circle when he was given that mission.

I think the way it was supposed to go, is that Malfoy’s invasion would have been expected to have taken place much earlier in the year and that it would end in a shambles. He wasn’t expected to get anywhere near Dumbledore. Malfoy himself would be killed in the cross-fire, his troops would make whatever escape they could. And then, some time later in the year, after the excitement died down, Snape would assassinate Albus, after all. And I very much doubt that there would have been any requirements about facilitating invasions on Snape’s part.

****

So why didn’t it happen like that?

Well, what I think may have happened is that Draco took his Dark Lord by surprise by turning out to be cleverer and much more resourceful than Tom had anticipated, and Tom, who wasn’t expecting that, was intrigued.

Voldemort had probably expected Malfoy to bring his troops in through one of the tunnels to Hogsmeade (on the night of a full moon? Including a horde of werewolves from the forest?). That’s the kind of plan that he would expect from a schoolboy. And since it was all going to fail anyway, it didn’t matter to Tom that most of the tunnels were already known to the staff.

Instead, Malfoy went off and roped Borgin into the plot and was engaging in a correspondence with him in London. WTF? Although it is pretty clear that Malfoy did come under a certain degree of pressure over the continuing delay, I am beginning to suspect that the lack of any indication of displeasure from Voldemort over the progress of Malfoy’s assignment may indicate that he was fascinated by the novelty, and wanted to see how it would all unfold, and just how far the kid would get with it.

And the plot all but worked. Indeed, it did work. Draco may just have earned himself a reprieve.

But how was it that Albus learned about the planned invasion? For I am sure that he did know about it.

And it’s not necessarily something that Snape would have been told.

Well we’ve got a couple of hot possibilities to consider:

Harry’s trip to Diagon Alley to get that year’s school supplies took place the first week in August. Harry was yattering on about Malfoy being “up to no good” from that point forward. Even though he didn’t speak up to an adult about the matter until he was practically stepping onto the Hogwarts Express, there was no secret about Harry’s suspicions that Malfoy was up to something.

Albus had already tangled with whatever had blasted his hand. Snape had already helped him to “stopper” his death. By that time Albus also would have already been filled in on the fact that Snape has been ordered to stand down and let Malfoy have a go at assassinating him, and they had drafted out their staged murder plans for the year. Albus would have taken Harry’s information regarding Malfoy very seriously indeed. Once he heard of it.

So our task is to fill in the gap on how he got the information. Because considering the number of parties involved in the matter, it is a bit much to assume that he never did. And he doesn’t have to have got it immediatly.

My favorite (although far from the only) candidate for this particular game of “telephone” is Fleur. She was actually living at the Burrow over the summer, and she isn’t so much older than Harry that she would automatically dismiss his theories on the grounds that he is just a kid. Remember; she’s seen Harry in action.

I suspect that she would have passed Harry’s observations/suspicions of Malfoy on to Bill. Bill is far enough removed from his parents’ household that he probably doesn’t take Harry’s observations for granted either.

He might very well have mentioned the matter to Moody, or Shacklebolt, or Tonks, or somebody in the Order. From there it would have been relayed to Albus. A sure thing? Hardly. But plausible within fairly simple parameters.

At the very least, Arthur might have thought the matter over and sent an owl to Dumbledore, after seeing the kids off on the Hogwarts Express, just in case there might be something to Harry’s fretting.

But that isn’t our only plausible script.

****

On to somewhat shakier possibilities: we are approaching the realm of “extreme theories” with this one. This is the only gap in my current interpretations which lacks an established canon bridge.

What do we really know about Borgin & Burkes?

It appears to be a somewhat dodgy curiosity shop, perhaps one of the more reputable businesses in a highly unsavory district. And it’s been in operation for at least the past 70 years, and probably longer. It specializes in Dark Arts artifacts and it draws a customer base from a broad spectrum of wizarding society. All the way from very shady characters indeed, to serious collectors from prominent families.

So, given that kind of a customer base, can we really anticipate the proprietors’ own political views? Apart from a tolerance for the Dark Arts, and Dark wizards, that is? I don’t think we can. B&B have a vested interest in telling each and every customer exactly what the customer wants to hear. We’ve watched the current proprietor, Borgin, do precisely that. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Riddle picked up his habit of pointing out faux connections/parallels between himself and whoever he is trying to influence while he was working there.

And, lest we forget, Tom Riddle was once employed in that very shop. Indeed, we do not know for certain just how far back Riddle’s association with that shop goes. But we do know that he was a favored and highly valued associate at the time of his first disappearance — and that he grossly abused his employers’ trust; murdering one of their most valuable customers and absconding with two of the most significant items in her collection. Admittedly the murder could not be proved, but he was unquestionably revealed as a thief (assuming Albus didn’t cover that up too), even if only to a few eyes. And he undoubtedly knew many of his employers’ business secrets.

This cannot have been a welcome or a comfortable discovery for the shop’s owners.

At some point, Albus Dumbledore, almost certainly already a member of the Wizengamot (although probably not yet Chief Warlock) shows up either investigating the death of Hepzibah Smith, and/or the movements and history of, among other matters, Tom Riddle, in an attempt to trace her missing artifacts. He speaks with one of the founders of the business, one Caractacus Burke. We were shown only the barest fragment of that interview. Only the portion that concerned Burke’s original acquisition of the Slytherin Locket. We do not know what else they may have discussed.

It only belatedly occurred to me that B&B could hardly be expected to be enthusiastic supporters of Tom Riddle — in any of his identities — in the wake of such discoveries. Probably no more than Horace is. And that even before he became Headmaster, or Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, Albus Dumbledore was an acknowledged force in the wizarding world to be reckoned with.

And a shop in Knockturn Alley, particularly one with such a broad customer base, might be a very desirable source of information concerning the activities of various... elements... in wizarding society. Long before the advent of “Lord Voldemort”. Particularly to a wizard like Dumbledore who might occasionally be called upon to investigate things.

And neither Caractacus Burke, nor Mr Borgin is any more shady a customer than, say, Mundungus Fletcher — who may have even served as some sort of go-between between the shop and Albus Dumbledore, much as Hagrid served as courier between the Dumbledore brothers at Hogwarts Castle and the Hog’s Head. Indeed B&B is certainly no more dicey a possible outpost for Albus’ informers than the Hog’s Head. It is quite comparable, in fact.

Albus may not have even needed Harry’s story in order to be on top of the Draco affair.

****

But, in the event that B&B was NOT already one of Albus’s sources, once Albus did learn of Harry’s suspicions he would have sent someone to Knockturn Alley to investigate. Indeed, he may have gone there himself to take another opportunity to flash his blasted hand about where the “right” people could be trusted to note it and carry tales.

And who should he or his agent discover in Knockturn Alley but Fenrir Greyback, tricked out in borrowed wizard’s robes loitering in the vicinity of the shop and making sure that Borgin sees him, in accordance with Malfoy’s threats.

Is it really so much of a stretch to wonder whether Albus may have managed to get the story out of Borgin in return for a promise of protection?

And that even if not, he may have recognized that the lacquer cabinet in the shop was a match to the one at Hogwarts.

The Hogwarts cabinet, after all, had just figured in a very notable and disturbing incident before the start of the previous term. If Snape is a White Hat, he would have hardly have failed to fill Albus in on the matter of Montegue’s disappearance and reappearance as soon as he could. Which had only been a matter of a handful of weeks earlier, once Dumbledore had returned to the school, mid-June. The information would have still been reasonably fresh in Albus’s mind by mid-August. Indeed he may have just overseen the removal of the damaged cabinet to the “7th floor storage room”, himself.

After all, just because Harry and his friends said nothing about the twins having stuffed Montegue into the cabinet, it really is a bit much to assume that Snape didn’t get something of the story out of the boy before he clammed up. Including the overheard conversations in the shop at the other end of the trip. Snape was the boy’s Head of House, after all. We saw that he was called in as soon as Montegue reappeared, and Montegue would have believed that Snape was trying to assist him after his ordeal. There was ample reason for some degree of trust there. Not to mention Legilimency.

In fact it was probably Snape who was the one to advise Montegue not to spread the story around. Although it sounds like the kid found the story just too good to resist passing on to his housemates once he boarded the Hogwarts Express back into town.

All completely off Harry’s radar, of course. Which, when you think about it, is all of a piece with everything else of significance that was going on over the course of OotP.

And if the looks of the cabinet in the shop rang a bell, a brief stop by #12 to look at the tapestry would have confirmed that Phineas’s daughter Belvina had married into the Burke family. And Phineas, when asked, might have already confirmed that the cabinets were paired. The information pertaining to those cabinets was all accessible to Albus. Once he chose to investigate.

Furthermore, if the cabinet had not already been moved into the Room of Hidden Things by the time the students returned to the school in September, then Malfoy and his goons must have done it themselves, after curfew one night, in full sight of the Hogwarts art collection — since I very much doubt that leading Crabbe and Goyle by the hand, with them all lumbered with a full-sized cabinet (even with a weight-reduction charm on it) under the cover of Peruvian darkness powder, with the aid of the Hand of Glory would really have been on.

In fact Albus may even have quickly had the cabinet moved out of the Room and back to its original location just to see if Malfoy would take the bait.

And once the cabinet had been moved into the Room, well, there is a painting of trolls in tutus and a wizard attempting to teach them ballet prominently on display opposite the door, to serve as a sentry — and to overhear what the petitioners were asking of the Room as well, if they had no better sense than to ask for it aloud, even if under their breath.

Once it had been reported that Malfoy and the cabinet had taken up residence in the Room, all the cards were in Albus’s hands. After any evening that Malfoy had been reported spending time in the Room, Albus would make a visit that night and undo what Malfoy had done, stringing the whole project out for as long as the Flamels’ stash of Elixir lasted. And then after he had taken his final shot of it, he went and repaired the cabinet himself — all but a simple detail or two — and waited for Malfoy to enter the room again and discover it.

Once Malfoy was reported entering the room, Albus sent for Harry.

Malfoy was sent a hand-picked backup team that he would absolutely not have been able to fight off alone, or to escape, once the main objective of the mission was accomplished. If, as I say, they managed to get that far.

Somehow, in defiance of all common sense, nobody seems to have anticipated that they might run into defenders patrolling the halls, and that they would need to fight their way out of the castle. If they had, you would have thought that the invaders would have at least brought along their masks. Every one of the DEs went into that mission bare-faced, and none of them appear to have been Azkaban escapees. So they were all of them “outed”. I really do not know what Rowling thought she was doing with that.

[For that matter, after the graveyard muster at the end of GoF, when have we ever seen DEs running about in masks. I think the masks are no more than yet another “use once and discard” decorative element.]

But, at any rate, where the DEs were coming from, Malfoy was toast.

However, Voldemort wasn’t quite prepared to dispense with Snape as well. Or, at any rate, not just yet.

****

Which brings us (at long last! I know that’s what you’ve been waiting for) to the Unbreakable Vow.

I suspect that Voldemort wasn’t a bit pleased about that Vow. But that we heard of no particular fallout regarding it suggests that it wasn’t a major issue for him. Voldemort may have realized that he had not made himself sufficiently clear that Snape was not merely to stand down and leave the way clear for Malfoy, but that he was to stay out of the matter altogether. Tom certainly had not let Snape in on the fact that the mission was a planned double-cross.

Still, he wasn’t altogether displeased to learn that his currently most-favored follower was committed enough to what he did know of his Master’s objectives that he was willing to put his life on the line to see that those objectives were carried out. Even if that wasn’t at all what his Master had intended.

Therefore, Snape had to be kept out of it, so he wouldn’t be zapped by the 2nd clause of his inconvenient Vow. And Bellatrix, probably through innuendo, misrepresentation, and outright lies, made sure that Draco tried as hard as he possibly could to keep Snape out of it. If McGonagall (probably on Albus’s instructions) hadn’t sent Flitwick to alert Snape of the invasion the whole thing might have all gone pear-shaped. It almost did, anyway, thanks to the presence of Greyback.

I also think the DEs had their orders not to interfere with Snape, IF he turned up.

Snape was to be kept OUT of it. They were NOT to confide in him. They were NOT to contact him. But if he showed his face, they were to let him take charge. Regardless of whether the boy had completed his mission or not.

So. About that Unbreakable Vow:

****

The Unbreakable Vow is really not the biggest fly in this particular pot of ointment. The Vow only made it obligatory that Snape take the role of the villain who would be “seen” to have murdered Albus Dumbledore. And that bit of casting was already built into his and Albus’s plan, and most probably into Riddle’s as well.

If the murder was staged, who else among Albus’s supporters is there that Albus would have been able to trust to kill him? Who else would Albus be confident had the nerve to do it, and to do it cleanly? In fact, the two of them had to do anything they could to ensure that the job would fall to Snape, and that the DEs would stand aside and let him do it (ETA: especially with the frapping Elder Wand complication in the mix — even though there was a lot less to the Elder wand complication than anybody realized). No, from where I am standing, the big, black, buzzing bug is our not having any idea of why those gratuitously weird details about the actual murder itself were written into it. They don’t appear to be necessary. They serve only to confuse. And at this point, and on that issue, I have no clear answers

But where the Vow is concerned; the more carefully you read the Spinner’s End chapter the more convincing is the suggestion that rather than being tricked into swearing the Vow by Narcissa, it was Snape who led Narcissa into asking him to take that Vow. He was clearly leading that whole conversation, and playing both those women like hooked trout.

Well, we’re back to the “see it once; see it again” trick. This is the old “where your loyalties lie” confrontation all over again. What is going on here is not just what is dancing about on the surface.

The whole chapter reads rather like a deliberate entrapment. And it isn’t Snape who is being trapped. (“Won’t you step into my parlor?” Said the cunning spider to the flies... Complete with a sting.)

But the underlying issue is probably quite a bit more complex than that. I suspect that Snape’s throw-away line to the two sisters that Pettigrew “has taken to listening at doors”, was not just a caution that their visit “might” be reported, but a back-handed taunt to Pettigrew that Snape knew perfectly well that Pettigrew would be listening, and that he was going to report any conversations to Voldemort. It may even have been a hint to Pettigrew that Snape would be amplifying Pettigrew’s report with one of his own, so he’d best not make any flights of fancy in that report. Snape certainly had no qualms about openly talking about that Vow to young Malfoy later on. There was clearly nothing secret about Snape’s Vow in DE circles by Christmas.

But I suspect that the real attempted “entrapment” at Spinner’s End was not on Snape’s part. Neither was it primarily directed at him.

When Snape opened the door to the Black sisters, he recognized that this was the test he had been expecting ever since he found himself giving house room to Peter Pettigrew, of all people. Only he wasn’t the one who was being tested.

And I really do think that forcing Peter to come out and show his face, and that little throw-away line to alert the sisters that Pettigrew would be listening wasn’t there by accident, either. No, not at all. That was damage control.

I’ve suspected all along that once it entered the equation, Snape and Albus were depending on the news of that Vow getting back to the DEs through Bellatrix, and I rather think that they were depending upon Pettigrew reporting it to Voldemort as well. It doesn’t do a lot of good to interpose yourself between the Dark Lord and his current target if he’s going to fire off a shot and hit you my mistake. The only way for Snape to protect Draco by taking that Vow was to make sure that Voldemort knew he’d done it. We heard Pettigrew go up the stairs after Snape zapped him. But the man is an Animagus. He would have stomped up the stairs, transformed, raced back down, and been listening to the whole conversation at a mouse hole.

Sneering at Peter and zapping him for good measure would have also put his back up. And what does a Gryffindor (or a Death Eater) do when you get his back up? Particularly a notably underhanded one? Besides, why would the Dark Lord have sent Pettigrew home with Snape if not to report Snape’s contacts and conversations? The man’s not going to stop doing it on Snape’s say-so.

The warning that Pettigrew will be listening served to keep Narcissa from asking for anything that could be construed as disloyal. Two of the three clauses of the Vow are directly related to the successful completion of the mission. The other was no more than a predictable mother’s request to watch over and protect her son.

Snape later even makes a point of directly telling Draco that he has sworn an Unbreakable Vow to Draco’s mother. This was not accidental either. Snape was using the Vow to call attention to himself as the default assassin. And this was absolutely deliberate.

In the first place, it sent an unequivocal message to the Death Eaters as to whose side Snape was on. They may have disliked him, been jealous of him, and tried to keep him out of it. But he was a rival, not an enemy. They were all (apart from Bellatrix) confident that he was on their side. This is not a minor issue. And it was expected to pay dividends later on.

In the second place, being solidly cast in the role of Second Murderer might lower the chance of someone like the Carrows or “Brutal-face” jumping in and queering the deal by trying to finish off Albus — who has spent a year establishing that he is vulnerable and helpless — themselves, if/when it became clear that Draco couldn’t do it.

No one at the time really one took Greyback into account (Rowling’s throwing his name into the discussion in DHs I suspect was an afterthought and a retrofit). I tend to doubt that it had occurred to either Snape or Albus that anyone would be sending the Big Bad Wolf on a mission into a school full of children. Snape got up to the tower just about in the nick of time.

In the third place, it set the DEs up to see what they expected to see. They expected to see “Snape the Assassin” and that is exactly what they did see. Even if there were anomalies in his performance (and there were), these will probably not have registered. From where the DEs were standing, Snape was already cast as the murderer of Albus Dumbledore before he ever got to the top of the tower.

I also suspect that Snape and Dumbledore had agreed that, if at all possible, Snape should try to insinuate himself into Malfoy’s plans in order to try to apply damage control from the inside.

Well, that certainly didn’t work.

****

Malfoy managed to make a hash of that part of the plan. I’d say that he did it without half trying, but it’s clear that he was trying, and trying very hard indeed. If he’d cooperated with Snape, rather than with Bellatrix, he might have agreed to fake his death and gone into hiding, earlier in the year, taking him out of the equation altogether, and no-one would have been any wiser.

Assuming that Tom wasn’t already parked at Malfoy Manor, that is. Draco would not have agreed to go into hiding unless someone saved his mother. With the Vow in play they would have arranged some plausible reason lying about for why Snape could not have assisted Malfoy, and so appear to have managed to escape being zapped by the backlash. But, it just didn’t happen like that.

Even though the Vow must have been an inconvenient and intractable element to have to juggle over the year leading up to the final performance, it was not there by accident, and Snape was not tricked into making it. He volunteered. We saw him do it, and even if it was a spur-of-the-moment improvisation Dumbledore no doubt agreed that he hadn’t really any other choice, considering that there were two additional lives at stake.

(ETA: or at least so we could still think at the end of HBP. It is now clear that we ought to have taken him at his word in the final debriefing the year before. He didn't care how many other people were taken down along the way so long as his investment in Harry Potter was protected.)

And, once the Vow was in play, the two of them could certainly turn it to their own use. I have come round to the view that even if it wasn’t their original idea (and I really do think it was), the Vow rapidly became an intrinsic part of their setting of the stage.

And awkward as it might have been to maneuver around, it really looks like they managed to gain a great deal more by the use of that Vow than they lost by it. If Malfoy had just been a bit more cooperative, or the circumstances at the Manor been otherwise, there would have been everything to gain.

Providing yet another indication that including a Malfoy in your plans is just asking for trouble. (Molly: “That whole family is trouble!”) Or, given Professor_Mum’s views on the matter, maybe that should be rephrased as the inherent problems of depending on any member of the extended Black family in any complex operation.

And, at that, it may not have been that awkward, really. An Unbreakable Vow is not a piece of obscure Dark magic that nobody knows anything about. If a pair of country-bred, home-schooled, geographically and socially isolated 7-year-olds know what an Unbreakable Vow is and how to set one up, it can’t exactly be considered obscure. It is probably some creakingly obsolete bit of contractual magic that turns up regularly in wizarding folktales (such as Beedle the Bard, although in a couple of months we’ll know for sure, at least as far as the pared-down version of Beedle we’ll be getting for Christmas goes). And it has probably been superseded in everyday use by something far more manageable and effective in modern wizarding business practices where any form of contractual magic is still required. Although some very old traditional contracts probably still draw on it.

Indeed, when you stop and consider the matter, the Unbreakable Vow bears a more than slight family resemblance to the “magical contract” to compete, imposed by the Goblet of Fire, which locked Harry into the TriWizard Tournament back in Year 4.

****

This calls for some level of a reality check.

The TriWizard Tournament hadn’t even been held for over 200 years. Any magic that was tied up in the tournament’s administration is bound to be highly traditional.

Watching out for and protecting young Malfoy is something Snape would have done as a matter of course, and it was imperative that if anyone was going to throw an AK at Albus, it had bloody well better be Snape!

But none of this has anything to do with the primary reason that Snape was all but openly suggesting that Narcissa demand for him to swear her an Unbreakable Vow.

Snape really has been associated with the Malfoys for a long time. He has benefited from the association. And, nasty piece of work though he may sometimes seem, rank ingratitude does not really appear to be one of his failings. He has known the Malfoys long enough for it to be expected of him to have some genuine concern for their welfare. Which is why Narcissa went running to him in the first place.

And why Pettigrew was already there waiting for her.

Narcissa had figured out the double-cross.

That “double-cross” theory is another one right up there with Snape-loved-Lily. Once it finally occurs to you, it colors everything and you just cannot look away from it. Unlike Snape-loved-Lily, the double-cross has a high degree of canon support. The very fact that whoever sent the DEs into Hogwarts chose such a group and included Greyback suggests that whatever his objective was, it wasn’t just to ensure that Dumbledore died.

And if Narcissa had figured it out, that would also explain the level of her agitation and hysteria, which otherwise comes across as over-the-top and even positively unbalanced. Bellatrix acts as if she is totally clueless, and she may well be. But the probability is that she just doesn’t care. So far as she is concerned the kid is a Malfoy, not a Black. And whatever the Dark Lord wants is good enough for her.

But when you factor in the certainty of both Severus and Narcissa being aware of a double-cross in the background, the subtext of the dialogue between Narcissa and Snape in Spinner’s End now comes across as something like:

“He’s given Draco a mission that he cannot survive. My son is going to DIE!”
“Yes.”(subtext: got it — message received and understood.)
“You are his most valued advisor, his favorite —”
“I can’t talk him out of it.”
“But you could help Draco!”
“Yes. (MAKE me help him).”

And so the penny finally drops as to just why Pettigrew was sent to Spinner’s End in advance. He wasn’t sent there permanently, and he wasn’t sent there just to report on Snape’s movements. Voldemort knew perfectly well that if she figured it out, Narcissa would go running straight to Snape to beg for help. Snape has been associated with the Malfoys for yonks. Snape is sharp. Just sending Pettigrew home with him would be warning enough for Snape to know that he is supposed to back off and keep his nose clean. But Pettigrew’s real assignment at Spinner’s End was to spy on and report back regarding Narcissa.

Voldemort was just itching for an excuse to execute her too, and disloyalty is such a nice, wide, flexible reason to do it. Draco’s assignment may even have been intended to serve as bait, goading her into saying or doing something damning in front of witnesses. That would have been another nice message that Tom hoped to be able to send to Lucius.

Bellatrix may have actually had an inkling of that. She didn’t give a damn about the Malfoys, father or son, but she would try to keep her own sister from saying or doing something that was calculated to get her killed.

It was a very close call, but they dodged that particular bullet. Between them, Snape and Narcissa managed to make an end run around the Dark Lord’s plans for her, and to at least temporarily spare Draco’s life. (Narcissa’s life as well. Dumbledore could have made no objection.)

And, between them, Snape and Narcissa even lucked out and managed to make it sound rather as if Snape only swore the Vow at all because Bellatrix got up his nose and mocked him for not agreeing to swear it immediately! So Bella catches any blame for her excessive zeal.

Of course, the fact that the Vow came bundled with all sorts of value-added benefits for the “Murder of Albus Dumbledore” extravaganza was just so much gravy.

And I really doubted that the Vow was still even an issue by the end of the book.

****

Snape wasn’t swearing a Vow to the great judge of hereafter. He was swearing a Vow to Narcissa. Subject to Bellatrix’s judgment as to whether he had fulfilled the requirements. And I think that he fulfilled his oath in a manner which would satisfy both Narcissa and Bellatrix (well maybe “satisfy” and “Bellatrix” don’t really belong in the same sentence, but I doubt she would be able to make any objections she might still have stick).

Which right there is a clue as to how an Unbreakable Vow works. You bind your own magic to your promise to fulfill the actions required by the petitioner. Essentially the whole thing is the old promise of; “Cross my heart and hope to die” made literal. There is no impartial judge overseeing the matter, just your own knowledge of whether or not you have made an honest attempt to comply with the demand. If you cannot convince yourself that you have made an honest effort, your own magic will kill you.

If Voldemort tries to read Snape by Legilimency, Snape can show him exactly what he did on the tower without a qualm.

From where the DEs are standing, the mission is complete. (Mission accomplished!) The DEs are certainly not going to go back to try it again.

So I think that by the morning after, Snape was safely off the hook regarding that Vow. If any clause was still in effect, it is the 2nd clause, the one to protect Draco to the utmost of his ability. But neither Snape nor Albus are likely to object to that.

Voldemort, however, almost certainly does.

Voldemort very likely did tell Snape to stand down and give the kid a clear path, in a manner in which Snape might have claimed to have been left with the understanding that he was to complete the mission himself if the kid didn’t. Indeed those might well have actually been his orders. His original orders, that is. Malfoy was supposed to fail his assignment, and then, after things cooled off a bit, Snape was to murder Albus. And don’t waste your breath trying to convince me that Snape would have been ordered to facilitate an invasion of the castle, because I won’t believe you.

That’s how it was supposed to go. Or at least until Snape and Narcissa put a spoke into the wheel by throwing an Unbreakable Vow into the equation.

And afterwards, Snape was being kept out of the loop, remember? He didn’t “officially” know about any intended double-cross in order to know not to interfere with one.

But having his most effective lieutenant sworn to protect Malfoy in perpetuity is bound to be inconvenient to the Dark Lord’s future plans. Especially any future plans regarding Malfoy.

For as long as the Vow served as an additional fall-back to ensure that Malfoy’s mission (which was essential to Voldemort’s other future plans) was successfully completed, he would let it stand. But it was already very much in his way, and he wasn’t likely to let it stand one minute longer than it needed to.

Particularly given that the kid did turn out to be too squeamish to complete the assignment. I rather think that Voldemort ordered Bellatrix and Narcissa to release Snape from his Vow as soon as he managed to get all three of them in one place together. Such Vows cannot be broken, but I will bet you almost anything that the Bonder can release you from one, or why would the Vow need a Bonder?

Consequently; by the day of Albus’s funeral, I didn’t really think the Vow was any kind of an issue any more. And nothing we saw in DHs suggests otherwise.

****

Which now brings us to the overheard quarrel. Frankly, during the interval between Book 6 and Book 7 I wasn’t altogether satisfied on what that was all about, either. There were just too many possibilities.

I was certainly not convinced that Snape had gotten cold feet about the staged death itself. He may have had reasonable doubts regarding the performance, but they were both already committed to the plan and he would hardly ask Albus to go back to the drawing board and start over. Still, he might have been being shirty about some of the details. He could even have been quibbling about the need to stun whatever messenger (apart from Harry) might be sent to fetch him, or — more likely — over some other part of the advance prep work.

I do think that he hated the necessity of having to be the one to throw that AK. I could be wrong, and he may have been arguing that the murder itself wasn’t really necessary. That if Albus was dying anyway, they probably could arrange for some kind of a finesse that would allow him to die in peace. If Albus was already dead, Snape probably wouldn’t be zapped by the Vow’s 3rd clause, and Malfoy might be given another chance.

If that was the case, Albus wasn’t having any. If he was dying anyway, he wanted to use his death to buy them all something worth having.

But it’s also possible that the quarrel may have been about some future action related to Snape’s mission the following year, once he was in deep cover. Probably something to do with his supporting Potter from behind the scenes. Not everything we encounter in a given book is about what is going on the current book, after all. But if that was the case, it was a shoe that wouldn’t fall until Book 7 was out.

Or; given that the quarrel took place very shortly before Ron Weasley managed to be poisoned by mistake. Snape might have been proposing to haul back on Malfoy’s leash, or sit on him, rather than to continue to stand back and let the kid make random murder attempts without interference, as previously agreed. (And wouldn’t that have ended up in a fine display of “I told you so” when Ron ended up in the hospital wing?)

Or they could have been arguing about the invasion. They couldn’t really use the murder without the invasion, and its attendant witnesses. So was the benefit of the one worth the risk of the other? If they could just get Malfoy to renege on that part of the mission they could probably talk him into going into hiding, but they couldn’t seem to get at him to do it. And Snape couldn’t really risk raising the subject himself.

It’s quite possible that this particular complication with Malfoy was giving Snape more and more cause for concern as the year went on. Because, while the first botched murder attempt (in fact both botched attempts) to curse or poison Dumbledore at long distance might have been initiated by Malfoy on his own, they knew that Malfoy was engaged in an invasion plan as well, and that he was claiming to have help from someone outside the school. Snape may have been worried that this wasn’t just his mother and his aunt. Snape was being deliberately kept out of the loop. Which would have galled him. Snape likes knowing everyone’s secrets.

He may even have been arguing over following Albus’s lead and leaving poor Madam Rosemerta under the Imperius curse, so as not to tip Malfoy off that they were aware of his having put her under his control.

Or he may have been objecting to being told to stay in his quarters until called, and have to run all the way from the dungeons to the top of the highest tower before he could intervene, and possibly arrive too late (and too out of breath) to perform his role.

Or — and this is something that surfaced on one of my discussion boards; Hagrid may have been mistaken over what Albus was talking about when he advised Snape to make investigations in his House. Hagrid is convinced that this was something related to all the House Heads being instructed to try to find out about who cursed Katie Bell. Snape and Albus already knew who was behind the attack on Katie Bell.

However, we also already know that Snape has a house of his own. How do we know for sure that Albus wasn’t referring to the house in Spinner’s End? And if he was, what might Snape have been engaged in at Spinner’s End that he wanted to get clear of?

There is just no shortage of possibilities about that quarrel.

But, I have to agree that the most straightforward answer to the problem was that Snape was beginning to balk over the murder being necessary at all, the invasion was too big of a risk, and he wanted off the hook of being the one to have to curse Albus, even if this defection risked his own life. And Albus, as usual, was convinced that he had everything under control, and flatly refused to permit Snape to risk his life in such a manner.

But, otherwise I think I’m just going to have to pass on that overheard quarrel.

****

Or possibly not. Some additional considerations sluggishly surfaced in the last weeks before the release of the final book. That quarrel was overheard by Hagrid sometime in February. More than half-way through the school year. Malfoy and his activities had been under observation for some time by then.

Some of those activities had already affected other people, and some of them harked back to an incident that had taken place the previous year. And I think we have all been overlooking yet another case of “see it once, see it again”. This one probably doesn’t go anywhere, and it certainly wasn’t ever openly admitted to have been relevant. But it seems reasonable to mention it. At the very least it adds a bit of background in an area where we have a blank.

In the year leading up to that overheard quarrel we saw the results of two separate attacks upon students. Students who unquestionably saw their attackers and yet who never told anyone who those attackers were.

Montegue almost certainly saw that it was the Weasley twins who had stuffed him into that cabinet.

Katie Bell certainly saw that it was Madam Rosemerta who had given her that package and asked her to give it to the Headmaster.

Why did neither of them say anything?

In Montegue’s case, I think it might be reasonable to suspect that the twins Obliviated him before they shut the cabinet’s door. They certainly did not volunteer to take the consequences of having attacked him when he returned. Or showed much concern that he was going to tell on them. Besides, an Obliviate in the middle of the scuffle would probably have given them a distinct advantage. Even in Montegue’s story to his friends on the Express he doesn’t seem to have related how he got into the cabinet. Only how he got out of it. It would also explain at least part of his “dazed and confused” manner, upon his return.

With Katie, the business seems to have been a bit different, and rather more confusing. She had the package in her possession for a good 10–20 minutes before she started investigating it on the way back to the castle. And the curse was clearly a major shock to her system. What is more, she was quickly transferred to St Mungo’s and isolated from her friends for a period of some months where she had no opportunity to speak of the attack. Nor did she speak of the attack upon her return to the school. By that time, if she had made an official report to the DMLE they would no doubt have cautioned her not to speak of it to others.

But there is still no obvious reason to assume that she did not remember the incident.

Unless, of course, Rosemerta Imperiused her in turn, and instructed her to both to give it to the Headmaster and to forget who had given the package to her.

Well. Okay. What else do these two attacks have in common?

Who was the first person called in, in both cases? Oh that’s right.

Professor Snape.

Who we now know was a highly-competent Legilimens.

If he was running up against an Obliviate with Montegue he would not necessarily have been able to determine that it was the Weasleys who shut Montegue in the cabinet. But I am reasonably sure that the boy did tell him about being in the cabinet, and that Snape had cautioned Montegue not to speak of the matter. The cabinet may even have been moved into the Room of Hidden Things on Snape’s authority to get something that dangerous out of the way (I suspect that most of the staff knows about the Room, whatever delusions of grandeur Tom Riddle may be harboring about its secrecy). Snape would have reported the incident to Albus as soon as he saw him again. And taken him to examine the cabinet, as well. He may even have been able to tell Albus that the cabinet at the other end was in a shop. Possibly even which shop. Snape is very good at figuring out puzzles. And Phineas approves of him.

In the case of suspected Imperius-fueled forgetfulness, I’m not sure whether even Legilimency could have made it possible to do an end-run around the problem (although Albus’s experience with Morfin Gaunt suggests that it is a viable hypothesis). I doubt that Snape would have left Katie under the Imperius curse, any more than he left her to the curse on the necklace. But once her condition was stabilized, he would certainly have cautioned her not to speak of the matter to her schoolmates. And he would have certainly reported his findings to Albus. Indeed they may have chosen to send her off to St Mungo’s to remove her from the temptation to talk about it. As well as to make sure that Rosemerta's inexpert Imperius was properly removed.

Ergo: there is a fighting chance that Snape and Albus knew about the Rosemerta complication by the middle of October.

I think they must have been alert to the possibility of a covert attack from that quarter from that point on. (Slughorn’s poisoned mead may have been purchased before the first Hogsmeade Saturday and had slipped in under the radar.)

Well, okay. But what does all that amount to?

For one thing, it certainly doesn’t sound like, between them, Snape and Albus took very aggressive measures to put a stop to random murder attempts, did they? Just Filch inspecting things carried in at the door and a lot of people dithering fruitlessly about the attack on Katie.

It’s almost like they didn’t want to put a stop to such attempts.

Well, maybe Albus didn’t. Albus has a track record for being a bit careless about other people’s safety. Maybe he thought that if they could get Malfoy to make another attempt without an invasion in the background that was all to the good, wasn’t it? Especially if they could catch him at it. Then they could deal with him by himself, without having to raise the question from their end. Albus always has had a fetish for catching wrongdoers in the act, before witnesses.

Unfortunately, after his 2nd botched murder attempt, the one which nearly killed Ron, Draco seems to have frightened himself out of making any further such attempts and concentrated all of his efforts on facilitating the invasion.

****

Which brings us to a reasonable stopping point, allowing us to jump directly to the night of Albus’s murder.

Continued in the following essay: