For a certain generation, the death of Dumbledore in the sixth Harry Potter book and movie was the most devastating of plot twists. Suddenly, Harry Potter and the rest of the Harry Potter cast had lost their mentor and guide through the world of Horcruxes. Without Dumbledore, our heroes’ chances of defeating Voldemort seemed slim.
It turned out that Dumbledore had partially engineered his death at the hands of one of the best Harry Potter characters, Severus Snape. In retrieving the Horcrux within Marvolo Gaunt’s ring, he had inflicted a deadly curse upon himself. Snape was able to contain the curse in his hand, but he could only give Dumbledore a year to live.
This story thread has caused fans to pose a question every time they watch the Harry Potter movies in order: couldn’t Dumbledore just cut off his hand? Well, no, and there are clear reasons why.
Fans have been fiercely debating the issue on Reddit, with a clear split between those who think the curse had already spread and those who believe Snape had managed to contain it completely into a hand, which could of course be amputated.
For the true answer, we must turn of course to the Potter books and, particularly, the scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in which the true arrangements for Dumbledore’s death are revealed via Snape’s memories.
Snape does explain to Dumbledore that he has “trapped the curse in one hand for the time being”, with that hand clearly blackened and useless from the effects of the dark magic. But then, he adds: “There is no halting such a spell forever. It will spread, eventually, it is the sort of curse that strengthens over time.”
That seems pretty definitive, as far as we’re concerned. This is the sort of spell that would grow stronger and spread, regardless of what Snape and Dumbledore attempted to do about it. Snape had simply managed to contain the symptoms, enabling Dumbledore to still live his life for the next year rather than slowly rotting away.
Of course, it’s also true that Dumbledore felt his death to be necessary in the fate of the Elder Wand, which led to Voldemort’s downfall and Harry’s triumph. He didn’t want to stick around much longer anyway. Even if he could’ve reversed the curse, he might have decided not to.
For more detailed breakdowns from the world of Potter, find out why Harry Potter’s scar isn’t actually a lightning bolt and learn about the Harry Potter monster too terrifying for the movies. We’ve also explored the most heart-breaking Harry Potter scene that didn’t make the movies and explained why we’ll never forgive the Harry Potter finale’s biggest change from the books.
Elsewhere, explore the best movies in the series with our guides to Ron Weasley and Hagrid. You can also look ahead to new movies with everything you need to know about the Fantastic Beasts 4 release date and the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child release date. Or, find out about the Harry Potter TV series release date.
The creator of the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling, has made a number of transphobic remarks on social media in recent years. If you’d like to learn more about transgender equality or lend your support, here are two charities we encourage you to visit: the National Center for Transgender Equality in the US and Mermaids in the UK.