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"You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation," said Dumbledore. "I ask this one, great favour of you, Severus, because death is coming for me as surely as the Chudley Cannons will finish bottom of this year's league. I confess I should prefer a quick, painless exit to the protracted and messy affair it will be if, for instance, Greyback is involved - I hear Voldemort has recruited him? Or dear Bellatrix, who likes to play with her food before she eats it."

His tone was light but his blue eyes pierced Snape as they had frequently pierced Harry, as though the soul they discussed was visible to him. At last Snape gave another curt nod.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

"the soul they discussed" confused me. It seems to be a bit out of place. How should we understand it?

  • You haven't included the previous paragraph, which starts with Dumbledore saying: You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man. I'm guessing he's saying that to Snape (Dumbledore's stylistically referring to himself as "an old man") - so it looks like it's Snape's soul they're discussing, for some reason. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 23 '19 at 13:10
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica, just added it. – dan Dec 23 '19 at 13:18
  • I see that before that, Dumbledore said That boy's soul is not yet so damaged, and Snape asks about his (Snape's) soul. But even if "that boy" is actually present, it seems contextually possible to me just from the brief fragment here (with Dumbledore looking Snape in the eye) that by then they're discussing Snape's soul. But overall it would probably make more sense to assume the substantial topic of the conversation is still "that boy's soul". I dunno - you've been reading the book up to that point. Make up your own mind. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 23 '19 at 13:58
  • I feel the wording here is a bit weird, but really that's not a surprise anymore. I personally don't see how "as though the soul they discussed was visible to him" is any better than "as though Snape's soul was visible to him". And to be honest, this part really does not create any effect. – AIQ Dec 23 '19 at 19:25
  • @AIQ Is it grammatical to say: "as though the soul of whom he's talking to was visible to him"? – dan Dec 23 '19 at 20:32
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Dumbledore and Shape had previously been discussing Snape's soul, particularly how it would handle killing Dumbledore. In general, souls are not thought to be visible. Moreover, they are generally thought to be housed within a person, even though there is no physical manifestation of it.

In this instance the description is informing us that it was almost as if Dumbledore could see through Snape, inside of him, to his actual soul. That is why his eyes are said to "pierce" Snape. Thus, "the soul they discussed" is Snape's soul.

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