Perhaps more revealing than we really wanted it to be, could it be that Harry and Ron’s instinctual feelings toward him were bang-on the whole time? Severus Snape. What do we know of him? for quite subtly we find ourselves looking back and we see that there is, indeed, a startlingly large amount of information on him that has been provided. Just as Snape was telling Bellatrix Lestrange that he had over 16 years of information on Dumbledore, so we have six books of information on Snape, for he has always played a prominent role in all the books, even if only to torment Harry.
The question that this post delves into and attempts to shed light on, not provide answers for, concerns what part Snape plays in the battle of Good Against Evil, for his loyalties are obscured by a number of things that arise in this book. Perhaps when I used the word ‘loyalties’ just now, a number of you immediately thought, ‘Loyalties…where have I heard that word in conjunction with Snape before?’ or others simply knew right away. Indeed, rereading the books undoubtably puts many-a-thing into new light. Shall we return to that passage?
The Philosopher’s Stone
Harry strained to catch what they were saying.
‘…d-don’t know why you wanted t-t-to meet here of all p-places, Severus …’
‘Oh, I thought we’d keep this private,’ said Snape, his voice icy. ‘Students aren’t supposed to know about the Philosopher’s Stone, after all.’
Harry leant forward. Quirrell was mumbling something. Snape interrupted him.
‘Have you found out how to get past that beast of Hargrid’s yet?’
‘B-b-but Severus, I-‘
’You don’t want me as your enemy, Quirrell,’ said Snape, taking a step towards him.
‘I-I don-t know what you -‘
’You know perfectly well what I mean.’
An owl hooted loudly and Harry nearly fell out of the tree. He steadied himself in time to hear Snape say, ‘-your little bit of hocus pocus. I’m waiting.’
‘B-but I d-d-don’t -‘
’Very well,’ Snape cut in. ‘We’ll have another little chat soon, when you’ve had time to think things over and decide where your loyalties lie.’
An interesting passage to place at the beginning of the series, isn’t it, when we now have questions concerning where Snape’s true loyalties lie.
Now, to turn back to more recent Snape passages, let us look at the impending situation: Chapter Two in the HBP, Spinner’s End, I still deem as the most interesting and important chapter in the book. We are given a glimpse of Snape’s life outside of Hogwarts, on what we presume, at this point, to be the mission Dumbledore has entrusted to him: to return to Voldemort and convince him that he is not the traitor that he is imaged to be. This, we know, is a completely verifiable possibility, as we know from Book Five the Snape is a very skilled Occlumens and Legilimens. The issue here lies in that we do not know how his skills rival to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s skills. For if we knew this, we would almost obviously know where Snape’s loyalties lie. Let us assume that Snape is working for Dumbledore still, and proceed through these passages playing devil’s advocate:
‘So put me in detention! Report me to Dumbledore!’ jeered Malfoy.
There was another pause. Then Snape said, ‘You know perfectly well that I do not wish to do either of those things.’
‘You’d better stop telling me to come to your office, then!’
‘Listen to me,’ said Snape, his voice so low now that Harry had to push his ear very hard against the keyhole to hear. ‘I am trying to help you. I swore to your mother I would protect you. I made the Unbreakable Vow, Draco -‘
‘What does it matter?’ said Malfoy. ‘Defence Against the Dark Arts – it’s all just a joke, isn’t it, an act? Like any of us need protecting against the Dark Arts -‘
‘It is an act that is crucial to success, Draco!’ said Snape. ‘Where do you think I would have been all these years, if I had not known how to act? … ‘
Draco believes that Snape is trying to take the glory of his mission from him, and here Snape forcible reminds Draco of the events we read about in Chapter Two: of Snape making the Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa Malfoy. As Harry tries to convince Ron and Hermione (mostly Hermione) later, though they insist that he’s acting this way because Dumbledore had ordered him to do so as part of his mission, he insists that what he heard between Draco and Snape could not have been acting. The clincher on this passage is summed up in Snape’s line: ‘You know perfectly well that I do not wish to do either of those things.’ Notice there is a pause before he speaks, and it’s almost as if he’s silently chuckling at Draco’s accusations, and then becomes angry with Draco’s immaturity about the situation at hand. The second part, however, is not as convincing regarding Snape’s acting ability – the reason he throws upon Draco could be a ploy for either side – acting is crucial to success, but to whom is he acting for? is this a last-attempt to convince Draco of his motives?
‘Well?’ Harry urged him, as Hagrid shuffled his enormous feet uneasily.
‘Well – I jus’ heard Snape sayin’ Dumbledore took too much fer granted an’ maybe he – Snape – didn’ wan’ ter do it anymore -‘
‘I dunno, Harry, it sounded like Snape was feelin’ a bit overworked, tha’s all – anyway, Dumbledore told him flat out he’d agree ter do it an’ that was all there was to it…’
Unfortunately this does not place Snape in a highly favourable light. Indeed, it almost convicts him right there on the spot. When we first read this passage, we are unaware of the complications that it brings with it: by the end of that fateful chapter, The Lightning-Struck Tower, we ourselves are struck at the core – I don’t think any of us imagined that the greatest contemporary wizard would fall at the hands of Severus Snape. We get the impression with this passage that Snape was just overworked on a particular mission that had been given him. In hindsight it seems most prudent to read the passage a little more literally: ‘Snape sayin’ Dumbledore took too much fer granted an’ maybe he – Snape – didn’ wan’ ter do it anymore -‘ Harry’s question is clever, and it’s too bad that Hagrid hadn’t picked up more of the conversation in detail, for it leads us to conclude that Snape meant his own loyalty – not to take his commitment to Dumbledore for granted anymore. The second part of Hagrid’s response is only slightly ambiguous; and though ninety-nine percent of me believes that Dumbledore is telling Snape that Snape would agree to do it, there’s that one percent that hovers over the far-fetched theory that perhaps Dumbledore is agreeing to Snape that Dumbledore himself will do it, whatever it is. However, considering the lack of evidence for this hovering theory, it might well have come from The Quibbler. Though Ms. Rowling has been known for double-staking phrases (see Moody in Book 4).
Next point: we must remember that none of the Unforgivable Curses can be administered without the desire for the Curse to occur, we learn this in the Ministry of Magic when Harry is battling Bellatrix in the previous book:
Bellatrix screamed: the spell had knocked her off her feet, but she did not writhe and shriek with pain as Neville had – she was already back on her feet, breathless, no longer laughing. …
‘Never used an Unforgivable Curse before, have you, boy?’ she yelled. She had abandoned her baby voice now. ‘You need to mean them, Potter! You need to really want to cause pain – to enjoy it – righteous anger won’t hurt me for long …’
Knowing this, we must ask ourselves, how could Snape give the Avada Kedavra Curse and not mean it? Confusion sets in a bit when we factor in the Unbreakable Vow he made in the second chapter – was it the Vow that caused him to kill Dumbledore? or did he himself actually want Dumbledore dead, and thereby the Vow worked along with his own convictions? We, through Harry’s invisible eyes, are able to witness Snape as the event happens:
Snape said nothing, but walked forwards and pushed Malfoy roughly out of the way. The three Death Eaters fell back without a word. Even the werewolf seemed cowed.
Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face.
‘Severus … please …’
Snape raised his want and pointed it directly at Dumbledore.
The future of Snape looks dark from the evidence we’ve been given. There was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face. That seems to explain the presence of the desire to perform the Curse…so why do I try to justify Snape in the presence of this evidence? Perhaps after six books, unlike Harry and Ron, he’s grown on me as a semi-good character. I do truly hope that this evidence is somehow misleading us.
The last point of evidence I share that seems to convict Snape comes from Spinner’s End in his conversation with Narcissa. We know that he was once a Death Eater, we know that it was he who had brought news of the Prophecy to Voldemort, which undoubtably gave him much respect and regard amongst You-Know-Who’s followers and perhaps even You-Know-Who himself. He had obviously established himself enough of a reputation for Narcissa to flee to him with her problem and ask him to implore Voldemort on her behalf to change his mind about the task apportioned to her son. This indicates that Snape, at least at one point, was influential within the Death Eaters realm, and it is confirmed that she still believes he is so with her succinct statement about the secret plan Voldemort revealed to only a few of his followers: ’I thought you must know about it!’ said Narcissa, breathing more freely. ‘He trusts you so, Severus …’ (p37). He trusts you so, Severus.
Alas, Snape still alive after going back to You-Know-Who itself is a feat none could accomplish lest they were sincere in their motives of self-preservation, or more skilled at Occlumens than the renown Occlumens master, Voldemort. The evidence seems to convict, along with the revelation that he, Snape, is the Half-Blood Prince, which, when put in this perspective, is a very suitable title for the Dark Lord’s close and trusted follower. The Dark Lord and his Prince.
As a last thought to ponder, I throw out one particular passage that keeps this situation in almost complete ambiguity, chosen from Book Five in the after-events of the Ministry, in Dumbledore’s office where it is explained to Harry the proceedings that took place after he had left Hogwarts grounds:
‘Kreacher told me last night,’ said Dumbledore. ‘You see, when you gave Professor Snape that cryptic warning, he realised that you had had a vision of Sirius trapped in the bowels of the Department of Mysteries. He, like you, attempted to contact Sirius at once. I should explain that members of the Order of the Phoenix have more reliable methods of communicating than the fire in Dolores Umbridge’s office. Professor Snape found that Sirius was alive and safe in Grimmauld Place.
‘When, however, you did not return from your trip into the Forest with Dolores Umbridge, Professor Snape grew worried that you still believed Sirius to be a captive of Lord Voldemort’s. He alerted certain Order members at once. … In the meantime he, Professor Snape, intended to search the Forest for you.’
This is the last testament I am able to give Snape in hope for a better ending with him.
Thus concludes my long-winded reflection on Professor Severus Snape: just where do his loyalties lie?