Defending the 12th century since the 14th; blogging since the 21st.

Catholicism, Conservatism, the Middle Ages, Opera, and Historical and Literary Objets d'Art blogged by a suburban dad who teaches law and writes stuff.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007
The Snape of Things to Come -- II

Dumbledore is dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. (To paraphrase the novel in which, arguably, a dementor was first seen.)

That doesn't mean he won't be a presence, perhaps an active one, in the last book. Dead former Headmasters like Phineas and Everard play important roles from time to time (and btw, I wish the OotP movie had kept in Phineas's speech reaming out Harry...!), and, given all the organizations in which Dumbledore held high office, there are probably enough portraits of him to keep him pretty busy. But still alive? No.

But there is just enough ambiguity about what happened on the Astronomy Tower to merit some questioning.

The following items are, I take it, canonical:

* Throughout this scene, Dumbledore has Harry in the full-body bind, so that he can't move.
* This spell continues in effect until someone removes it.
* The death of a spell-caster removes all spells he has cast (with obvious exceptions for chronic charms like the ones Mrs. Black used to keep her portrait on the wall).
* The Avada Kedavra curse works instantaneously (just ask, if you can, Lily, James, Bertha, Frank, and Cedric).

With all this as background, many have raised a rather interesting question: why does Harry get released from petrificus totalus, not when the lethal green light hits Dumbledore, but when Dumdledore hits the ground?

Many have asked how we can have any hope for Snape if Snape killed Dumbledore. Still others, more willing to follow a moral conundrum whither it leads, have asked how we can maintain our regard for Dumbledore if he asked Snape to kill him: this would make Dumbledore a suicide, and would also implicate him in destroying part of Snape's soul, since it's a given of the HP world that this is what murder does to the murderer. Many say this is the reason Dumbledore was anxious not to let Draco kill him: not that Dumbledore feared death, but that he wanted to maintain Draco's saveability. But at the expense of further damaging Snape's? (Is this was Snape meant when, in the argument with Dumbledore that Hagrid overheard, he said D was "presuming too much"?)

But all agree, as well, that there's a lot of hidden dialogue going on between Dumbledore and Snape during this scene, through legilimency, and through the voluntary relaxing of occlumency. Dumbledore's ambiguous "Please" is the only part of this dialogue that rises to the audible level.

There has also -- please don't forget -- been a lot of discussion of non-verbal spells throughout HBP.

So with all that as background, here's my question: Did Snape really cast Avada Kedavra at Dumbledore? We know he said it, but, between two great wizards who are experts at legilimency, occlumency, and non-verbal spells, is it possible that Snape pronounced Avada Kedavra but actually did something different? And that this is hinted at by the the very clear delay in Harry's release from petrificus totalus?

Well, different -- like what? Not petrificus totalus, b/c that stiffens the body, whereas we're told that Dumbledore went over the parapet "like a rag-doll." But maybe a stunning spell of some kind.

Since it clearly makes no difference to Dumbledore, who is dead regardless of the precise methodology of killing, does it make any difference to Snape? Is he less damaged for having pitched on old man off a high parapet rather than killing him directly? I suggest it does: had Dumbledore not already been weakened by the dead hand and the green potion (about which I'll post later), there are ways he could have survived or evaded a push off the parapet.

The difference is enough, at least, to put Snape in the position of a firing-squad member who may, just may, be the one whose gun was loaded with a blank. (That was a very civilized old custom.)

Another way to view it would be to borrow terms from the Common Law and say that, as Dumbledore arranged matters, Snape became guilty of involuntary manslaughter, not murder. The soul-damage to the perpetrator is far less -- but perhaps not nill: perhaps that's what Dumbledore was "presuming too much" about, according to Snape. Or perhaps D was "presuming too much" about whether S could carry out this caper at all.

I wouldn't set too much store by the "revulsion and hatred" on Snape's face as he raised his wand on the Astronomy Tower. First of all, the world's best occlumens is not going to give us a reliable read-out of his emotions on his face. Besides, Harry was "repulsed by what he was doing" when, on D's orders, he kept giving D the green potion at the Cave. The things people have to do can make them look "repulsed" or "revulsed" for any number of reasons.

Go ahead, laugh. But can you explain the gap between Snape's AK curse and Harry's release from the body-bind? I don't think it's just a mistake on JKR's part, like Harry's failure to see the thestrals at the end of GoF: the whole scene is too specifically described for that. So go ahead: you try it.