The Prince’s Tale: Talking to Dumbledore’s Portrait
Forget Harry Potter as a whole series - you could write a dissertation on The Prince’s Tale chapter in itself; it’s an astonishing information dump of a chapter, where we suddenly discover how the series hangs together.
But one of the most fascinating sentences in The Prince’s Tale is rarely discussed:
And the scene shifted. Now, Harry saw Snape talking to the portrait of Dumbledore behind his desk.
It’s so inconsequential, you barely see it. But this is Severus Snape - wanted murderer - standing in the Headmaster’s Office at Hogwarts, talking to the portrait of Albus Dumbledore.
This is before the scene at Malfoy Manor; and therefore, before the disagreement between Yaxley and Snape as to who holds the correct information about Potter’s leaving date - but after Snape has murdered Dumbledore.
Why is this important?
Well, Severus Snape is appointed headmaster after the Battle of the Seven Potters - and therefore after the scene at Malfoy Manor:
Severus Snape, long-standing Potions master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and wizardry, was today appointed headmaster in the most important of several staffing changes at the ancient school. Following the resignation of the previous Muggle Studies teacher…
So Snape is in Hogwarts - in the Headmaster’s Office, no less - when he is supposed to be on the run for Dumbledore’s murder. Yet here he is, chatting away to his portrait master seemingly without a care in the world.
But it’s not because he’s already headmaster - because he isn’t. He hasn’t strolled up to the castle with Ministry approval; this is happening whilst Snape has no legitimacy at Hogwarts, and if the staff knew he was there, they’d surely hunt him down.
Previous summers notwithstanding, I find it implausible that the teachers would leave the grounds en masse for their holidays, leaving the castle vulnerable to a hostile takeover - so he hasn’t waltzed into the castle because McGonagall and Flitwick fancied a week in Majorca.
So how did Snape get into the castle without being caught?
Well, when would they all have been busy? When would all of the staff have been otherwise occupied, and not expecting any sort of an ambush?
The day of Dumbledore’s funeral.
How fantastically beautiful that Dumbledore’s portrait was briefing Snape, his most trusted spy, on his next steps in the war - whilst the rest of the wizarding world stood outside, sobbing over Dumbledore’s death at the hand of his apparently traitorous member of staff.