Harry can’t believe his eyes. He sees Snape grab Draco and lead him down the stairs before realizing that he can now move again. He runs down the stairs, determined to get to Dumbledore and unwilling to believe he’s actually dead. The corridor is filled with dust and confusion and as Harry pushes through the fight he finds Fenrir Greyback tackling him, but manages to Stun the werewolf. Ahead of him, he sees Ginny fighting with a Death Eater, whom he jinxes as well. Ron, McGonagall, Lupin, and Tonks are fighting other Death Eaters, but Harry knows he needs to find Snape and Draco. He sprints past Neville who is lying on the floor but claims he’s uninjured.
The protective way in which Snape treats Draco mirrors Dumbledore’s treatment of Harry – showing that the villains and heroes are more closely connected than anyone (except the headmaster) would like to admit. Meanwhile, it’s important that Ron and Neville are fighting alongside other order members, while in previous books the adults would have ushered them to safety. The authority figures in their lives have transitioned from protecting them to requiring their help.
Pursued by two Death Eaters, Harry runs toward the entrance of the castle behind Snape and Draco. The doors have been blasted open and students are milling about in fright and confusion. Running onto the grounds, Harry sees fighting at Hagrid’s cabin and knows the giant is trying to prevent Death Eaters from escaping. Running past Hagrid, he tries to jinx Snape, who blocks his attempts while Draco runs away. Harry calls Snape a coward but Snape says it’s actually James who was the real coward.
The walls of Hogwarts have never been breached before, and the confused students remind the reader that this is a huge blow to the Wizarding community’s confidence in its public spaces. Meanwhile, Snape’s unprompted reference to James shows that he’s just as bad as Harry in letting his pre-existing biases determine his conduct towards others.
Another Death Eater hits Harry with the Cruciatus Curse and he falls to the ground, screaming – only to hear Snape reminding them that Voldemort wants to kill Harry himself. The other Death Eaters leave and Harry staggers toward Snape, trying to use the Sectumsempra curse on him. Snape sends him flying backward and asks furiously how he dares to use his own spells against him – for in fact, he is the Half-Blood Prince. Harry calls Snape a coward again and, seeming to lose control, Snape hits him with a painful jinx. As Buckbeak the hippogriff starts to chase him, Snape runs just beyond the school’s protective enchantments and Disapparates.
While Harry hears Snape threatening him with death at Voldemort’s hand, it’s important to note that he effectively stops another Death Eater from torturing Harry. Moreover, Snape’s revelation shows that Hermione was right in telling Harry to be wary of the potions book. As much as it’s a tale of Harry’s mounting distrust and suspicion, this novel is a chronicle of instances in which he trusts people or things that he shouldn’t.
Hagrid’s cottage is burning, but to Harry’s relief the giant staggers out of it unharmed. Harry helps him put out the flames. Hagrid doesn’t seem too perturbed by the break-in until, with difficulty, Harry announces that Snape has just killed Dumbledore. Even then Hagrid doesn’t believe him, saying the headmaster must have ordered Snape to attack the school with the Death Eaters. As they walk towards the castle they see people gathering just under the Astronomy tower, where Harry knows Dumbledore’s body must lie.
As Hagrid’s unwillingness to believe the recent tragedy shows, Dumbledore’s death isn’t just a personal tragedy but a fundamental blow to the Wizarding world. His absence jeopardizes the stability of physical things like Hagrid’s cottage or the Hogwarts walls, but perhaps more importantly, it dampens public morale and gives the impression that Voldemort is unstoppable.
When they reach the body, Hagrid howls in grief while Harry leans down to wipe some blood off the professor’s mouth. It’s almost impossible to believe that Dumbledore will never help or advise him again. Harry picks up the locket, which has fallen to the ground. Immediately, he sees that it’s not as big as the one he saw in the Penseive, and inside he finds a tiny note addressed to Voldemort, from someone named R.A.B. who announces that he has stolen the Horcrux and intends to destroy it. Harry has no idea who wrote the letter, but it’s now obvious that Dumbledore’s heroic efforts were in vain.
Harry makes this tender gesture without apparent forethought, which shows how accustomed he’s becoming to the adult, protective role he’s adopted in the last hours. However, the discovery about the locket’s origins is a devastating blow. For him, one of the worst parts of growing up is realizing that hard work and bravery won’t always be rewarded with success.