Harry Potter: Why Did Snape Kill Dumbledore?

The death of Dumbledore is arguably one of the most shocking moments in the entire series. Aside from the sudden demise itself, what’s even more alarming is the fact that the killer is Dumbledore’s presumed ally, Severus Snape. Why did Snape murder Dumbledore?

Snape killed Dumbledore in the final book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, because Dumbledore asked him to do so. This was all in an effort to spare Draco Malfoy’s soul from further corruption and to ultimately bring an end to Voldemort’s reign.

In this article, I will look at the main characters involved in this dreadful ordeal. I will also consider a few key events leading up to Dumbledore’s death. Finally, I will discuss the true motive behind it all.

Character Recap 

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably very familiar with the Harry Potter franchise and the scene in which Snape kills Dumbledore. Given that assumption, I probably don’t need to go into too much background detail, but let’s still be sure to highlight a few key points about the three main characters involved in Dumbledore’s death.

Severus Snape

  • Childhood friend of Lily, Harry Potter’s late mother. Snape holds a lifelong love for Lily.
  • Former Death Eater. Snape’s love for Lily is his motivation for leaving the dark side.
  • Long-time professor at Hogwarts.
  • After the death of Dumbledore, he is promoted to Headmaster of Hogwarts.

Severus Snape is a character that keeps you guessing throughout the entire Harry Potter series. Just when you’re sure his loyalties lie with the Dark Lord, he does something unexpectedly noble on behalf of Harry, Dumbledore, or a member of the Order of the Phoenix. 

It’s not until his own death that we see Snape’s true character revealed. 

Albus Dumbledore

  • His past involves the death of many loved ones and a complicated history with the legendary Gellert Grindelwald.
  • Long-time professor and Headmaster of Hogwarts.
  • Overall, his character represents wisdom, resilience, and strength.

Dumbledore has a consistently calm demeanor, but he is not a wizard anyone wants to be caught dueling. In fact, Lord Voldemort, a dark wizard whose magic knows no bounds, upholds a peculiar reverence for Dumbledore. 

Draco Malfoy

  • Rival classmate of Harry Potter.
  • House of Slytherin.
  • His character is known for being deceptive and spiteful.
  • Son of Death Eater, Lucius Malfoy. Draco eventually finds himself pledging his loyalty to Lord Voldemort. 

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Voldemort puts this loyalty to the test by asking Draco to complete the nearly impossible task of killing Dumbledore.

The Unbreakable Vow

In chapter 2 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we are in a scene involving 3 Death Eaters. Sisters Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy are paying a visit to Severus Snape.

Narcissa has come to Snape to ask him to help her son Draco as he attempts to perform an impossible task given to him by Lord Voldemort. We later learn this task is to kill Dumbledore.

Snape agrees to help Draco, but Narcissa asks Snape to make The Unbreakable Vow to seal the promise. This vow is set in place by magic and, if broken, results in death.

In addition to watching over and protecting Draco, the final condition of the vow is that Snape will see that the task is completed.

Death Scene

The death of Dumbledore occurs near the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. 

After their daring horcrux mission in a cave, Harry and Dumbledore return to Hogwarts to find it under siege from the Death Eaters.

At this point, Dumbledore is as weak as we have ever seen him. Even in his lowly physical state, he somehow immobilizes Harry (who is also wearing the invisibility cloak) without saying a word.

Draco Malfoy enters the scene and disarms Dumbledore, leaving him helpless without his wand. The two exchange a dialogue that reveals more about Draco’s secret mission from Voldemort to kill Dumbledore.

Dumbledore is as steady and calm as always, while Draco’s emotions are overloaded with equal doses of fury and fear.

Several more Death Eaters enter the scene, including Severus Snape. They all seem to know that Draco’s mission is to kill Dumbledore. The Death Eaters try to provoke Draco to complete the task, but Draco cannot bring himself to do it.

Suddenly Snape emerges from the crowd of Death Eaters. 

“Severus … please …” pleads Dumbledore.

Snape raises his wand and says, “Avada Kedavra!” The killing curse. Dumbledore is dead.

As soon as the deed is done, there is a mad rush of Death Eaters leaving the school grounds with Snape leading the way.

The True Motive

The truth about Dumbledore’s death is not revealed until Snape’s death in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

As Snape takes his final breaths, he hands Harry a vial of his deepest thoughts and memories. When Harry dumps the vial into the pensieve, we see flashbacks throughout Snape’s life.

Many of Snape’s early memories involve Lily, Harry’s mother. There are also several memories of private dialogue between Snape and Dumbledore. One memory, in particular, gives us the whole story behind why Snape kills Dumbledore.

Imminent Death

As a result of mishandling the horcrux manifested in Marvolo Gaunt’s ring, Albus Dumbledore knows he is dying a slow death. Dumbledore calls on Snape to help slow down the curse’s effects. Snape is able to help somewhat, but both characters know that Dumbledore will ultimately die from this horcrux.

Dumbledore is an exceptionally wise wizard. He is also keenly aware of the goings-on of Lord Voldemort. Dumbledore knows that Draco Malfoy has been given the task of killing him.

In his wisdom, Dumbledore knows that a young Draco Malfoy will not be able to muster up the strength to kill his headmaster. Since Dumbledore has a redemptive spirit and a compassionate heart, he does not wish Draco to suffer the deadly consequences of failing Lord Voldemort’s orders.

Having already accepted his fate from the horcrux curse and hoping for the best for Draco, Dumbledore asks Snape to complete the task on Draco’s behalf. 

A Plea for Mercy

Dumbledore’s final words are, “Severus … please …” Without proper insight, this plea initially seems like Dumbledore is asking Snape to spare his life.  

However, once we take the journey through Snape’s memories in the pensieve, we realize this plea for mercy is actually Dumbledore reminding Snape to uphold his end of their agreement and take his life.


Keeping in tune with the overarching theme of the series, the death of Dumbledore was ultimately motivated by love. 

Snape’s love for Lily Potter pulls him out of the depths of the dark side. Dumbledore’s love for others brings him to a place of sacrificing himself for the greater good.

Dumbledore’s death was not in vain. His death is a pivotal component of Voldemort’s eventual demise and good triumphing over evil.

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