Monday, July 09, 2007

Snape, Snape, Severus Snape

The new Harry Potter book will be out on July 21st, and of course everyone is speculating on the contents of the seventh and final book. In fact, if you do a search on the Internet, you will come across hundreds of predictions about how the story of our favourite myopic hero will end. And so, being completely obsessed by Harry Potter myself, I couldn't await the arrival of the end without writing down my own predictions for the seventh and final book. I don't claim to be an expert, despite having read all of the first six books at least three times. I know there's still stuff I've missed. I mean, my God, there are people who've written books trying to predict the contents of Deathly Hallows, and I'm probably not going to be as thorough as they were. Before you read on, please be aware that I will be revealing key plot elements in the series that may ruin your enjoyment of the books if you have not yet read all of them. You've been warned.

Now, I had originally planned to write about several aspects of the HP Books, but I realized my post was getting absolutely ginormous, so for this first post, I'm limiting myself to one topic (which is quite long enough as it is, thank you very much). I will do other topics in other posts later on this week. Maybe. If I have time. If there's nothing good on TV. So, to the first topic, one that, after the ending of the last book, is probably on the top of everyone's mind:

Snape: Whose Side Is He On Anyway?

I have to admit something here: I love Snape. That's right. In fact, I think he's a sexy beast. The potions master we all love to hate is probably my absolute favourite character in the whole series. His true loyalties have been in doubt since the very beginning. Time and again, Snape has fallen under suspicion only to be found innocent in the end. He treats Harry horribly, but has also saved his life. Our feelings about him have gone up and down like a yo-yo on a string. And then came the end of the sixth book, and two words have once again forced us to re-evaluate everything we thought we knew about him. Avada Kedavra. Is that the final word? Has Snape finally shown his true colours?

The short answer is no, Snape is not evil,'s also more complicated than that.

Let's go back to that night at the top of the astronomy tower where Harry watched Snape murder Dumbledore. It's hard to believe it actually happened, and one possible theory is that it didn't. Somehow Dumbledore survived and Snape only made it appear that he'd killed Dumbledore, thereby fooling the three Death Eaters, saving Draco and Dumbledore from death and keeping his own cover. That would be lovely, wouldn't it? But I don't think it's true. First of all, Dumbledore would've had to survive not only the Avada Kedavra curse, but then the additional fall of hundreds of feet from the top of the tower to the ground below. That's a tall order, even for Dumbledore. Second of all, even if Snape and Dumbledore had been able to fake Dumbledore's death, they had no warning and therefore no time. McGonagall later says "I don't think he knew they were there before Filius told him, I don't think he knew they were coming" (HBP 575). Although they both knew that Draco was trying to kill Dumbledore, Draco would not tell Snape exactly what he was up to, and I believe this caused them to underestimate Draco's abilities. Dumbledore disarmed and completely helpless was probably not what Snape expected to see when he got to the top of the tower. Finally, after Dumbledore falls from the tower, the Body-Bind Curse is lifted from Harry, and Harry knows "that it could have happened only because its caster was dead" (HBP 568). There is no doubt in my mind that Dumbledore is dead. But how could Snape have killed Dumbledore and still be on the same side?

The thing is, Snape was in a very difficult position. When he made the Unbreakable Vow, Snape promised three things: to watch over Draco, protect him from harm, and, if it seems Draco will fail, to carry out the deed that Draco was ordered to perform (HBP 41). Snape is faced with either fulfilling his promise, and killing Dumbledore, or else dying himself. Now, if Snape had chosen to die himself rather than kill Dumbledore, it may have shown a noble spirit, but a lack of intelligence. In addition to Draco, there were three other Death Eaters plus the werewolf at the top of the tower. If Snape had died, those four would have been quite willing to finish the job and probably more than a match for Dumbledore in his weakened state. Snape's death would have then been entirely without purpose. Snape really did the only thing he could. By killing Dumbledore, he fulfilled the vow, kept his cover and ensured that at least one of them was still alive at the end of the day.

Secondly, not only did Snape not have a choice, but I believe that Dumbledore wanted Snape to kill him. If Snape was a good little spy and told Dumbledore about the Unbreakable Vow, then Dumbledore would have seen the situation just as Snape did. At one point Harry hears Dumbledore begging Snape:
The sound frightened Harry beyond anything he had experienced all evening. For the first time, Dumbledore was pleading....
Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face.
"Severus... please..." (HBP 556).
Harry thinks that Dumbledore is pleading for mercy, but that just doesn't sound like Dumbledore to me. Dumbledore wasn't afraid of death. He himself has said that "to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure"(PS 215). I think that Dumbledore was in fact pleading with Severus to kill him. The revulsion and hatred that Harry sees on Snape's face may just have been that Snape was angry with Dumbledore for making him do it. Earlier on, in fact, Hagrid overhears a conversation between Snape and Dumbledore:
"I jus' heard Snape sayin' Dumbledore took too much fer granted an' maybe he - Snape - didn' wan' ter do it any sounded like Snape was feelin' a bit overworked, tha's all - anyway, Dumbledore told him flat out he'd agreed ter do it an' that was all there was to it. Pretty firm with him. An' then he said summat abou' Snape makin' investigations in his house, in Slytherin." (HBP 380).
Now it's possible that Dumbledore was only talking about Snape's work as a spy for the Order of the Phoenix. But it's also possible that Snape was upset that Dumbledore had told Snape to kill him, should it prove necessary. I realise this is a bit of a leap, but there is some evidence that I think gives it some weight. First of all, the way Dumbledore had been telling Harry absolutely everything about Voldemort, holding nothing back. It's almost as if he knew that he wouldn't be around for much longer. And finally, the fact that Dumbledore gave Snape the Defence Against the Dark Arts position. No teacher that had that position has lasted more than a year at Hogwarts. Dumbledore knew about the curse, and yet gave it to Snape anyway. He must have known Snape would have to leave at the end of the year.

But is that indeed what really happened? Snape may not have had a choice about killing Dumbledore, but how do we really know where his true loyalties lie? Dumbledore is the only one who seems to actually trust Severus. Several times Harry asks him how he knows Snape is on their side, and Dumbledore refuses to answer. Everyone else only trusts Snape because Dumbledore does, and they trust Dumbledore's judgement. As Lupin says, "Dumbledore trusts Severus, and that ought to be good enough for all of us....It comes down to whether or not you trust Dumbledore's judgement. I do; therefore, I trust Severus" (HBP 311). But Snape is an accomplished Occlumens: "The Dark Lord, for instance, almost always knows when somebody is lying to him. Only those skilled at Occlumency are able to shut down those feelings and memories that contradict the lie, and so can utter falsehoods in his presence without detection" (OOTP 469). Dumbledore is himself skilled at Legilimency: "I am a sufficiently accomplished Legilimens myself to know when I am being lied to" (OOTP 733). But suffice to say that if Snape can lie to Lord Voldemort and get away with it, he can also lie to Dumbledore. Dumbledore, however, isn't stupid. He knows he can't tell if Severus is lying, and so must have some other reason for trusting him. As McGonagall says, "He always hinted that he had an iron-clad reason for trusting Snape...Dumbledore told me explicitly that Snape's repentance was absolutely genuine" (HBP 574). Dumbledore therefore seems to know something about Snape that no one else does, something that would convince him that Snape was really on their side.

We know that Snape was, indeed, a Death Eater at one point in his life. And it is here that it becomes critical to establish a time line. We learned from Trelawney that it was actually Severus Snape who heard the first part of the prophecy that night at the Hog's Head Inn and told Voldemort what he had learned. At this time, Snape was also seeking a position at the school on Voldemort's orders so that he could spy on Albus Dumbledore. According to Dumbledore, "He was still in Lord Voldemort's employ on the night he heard the first half of Professor Trelawney's prophecy" (HBP 512). However, in one of Dumbledore's memories, he also says that "Severus Snape...rejoined our side before Lord Voldemort's downfall and turned spy for us, at great personal risk" (513). So Snape was still on Lord Voldemort's side when he heard the prophecy, but became a double agent at some point between then, and the night of the attack on Harry. It is also known that Harry's parents knew that Voldemort was after them: "Dumbledore had a number of useful spies. One of them tipped him off" (POA 152). It is my belief that Snape was the useful spy in question and that he was the one who told Dumbledore that Voldemort was after the Potters. It was at this point that Snape changed sides and when Snape shared this information, Dumbledore knew that he could trust him. One can only imagine the wrath of Lord Voldemort if he ever finds out that Snape attempted to save the Potters. But what could have motivated Snape to betray his master?

Dumbledore says that Snape "had no possible way of knowing - which boy Voldemort would hunt from then onwards, or that the parents he would destroy in his murderous quest were people that Professor Snape knew, that they were your mother and father....You have no idea of the remorse Professor Snape felt when he realised how Lord Voldemort had interpreted the prophecy, Harry. I believe it to be the greatest regret of his life and the reason that he returned" (HBP 512, 513). Harry of course does not believe this, and with good reason: Snape hated his father, and it is very unlikely that Snape would have felt very sad about his death. However, James once saved Snape's life, and "When one wizard saves another wizard's life, it creates a certain bond between them" (POA 311). The exact nature of this bond is not clear, but may have motivated Snape, at least in part, to attempt to save James' life in turn. But I believe that is only half of it. Snape's true motivation comes not from Harry's father, but Harry's mother. I believe that Snape was secretly in love with Lily Evans. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of textual evidence for this. Just more of a feeling I get reading between the lines. The only interaction we see between Snape and Lily is in one of Snape's memories. James and Sirius are bullying Snape when Lily comes up to them and tells them to leave him alone. Snape's response is to say "I don't need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her" (OOTP 571). But I don't think this was indicative of his true feelings. For starters, Snape was already hanging around with a group of future Death Eaters who would not have accepted Snape liking a Muggle-born. Secondly, Lily kind of emasculated Snape by standing up for him. Silly though it is, I think a lot of guys would have been at least minorly annoyed at being rescued by a girl. We know that both Snape and Lily were good at potions, so maybe they bonded over the fumes of a hot cauldron. Whether Snape's love was ever reciprocated by Lily, I couldn't say. But we do know the end result: Lily didn't end up with Snape, she ended up with James, Snape's nemesis. That's gotta hurt. It could partially explain why Snape's so crabby all of the time, and also why he hates Harry so much. Harry is a constant reminder of Snape's broken heart. I also think that Dumbledore knew Snape loved Lily, and it is why he continued to refuse to tell Harry why Snape could be trusted, even after Harry found out it was Snape who heard the prophecy:
" can you be sure Snape's on our side?"
Dumbledore did not speak for a moment; he looked as though he was trying to make up his mind about something. At last he said, "I am sure. I trust Severus Snape completely" (HBP 513).
Harry would have found the idea of Snape and his mother disturbing at the very least, and Snape would have been furious that Harry knew something so personal about him.

So those are my thoughts. I could be completely wrong of course, and if you think I am, feel free to call me out. We'll know soon enough. And if that's the case, I shall promptly delete this post and deny all knowledge of ever having written it. Ha. Of course if I'm right, you'll never hear the end of it.


Anonymous said...

very good Vi...I'm convinced!! Post more postulations and then I'll just accept your word as given and I won't have to read the book ;). P.

Ash said...

That sounds about right - I actually got the impression that Snape was in love with Lily too. And I like your interpretation of the events on the tower.

Any thoughts on the mysterious letter and the initials on it? I have my own theories - possibly something related to Sirius Black and his death-eater brother?

Violette said...

Yes Ash, I believe that RAB stands for Regulus Black, Sirius' brother. I shall be posting more on that later.