The Innocent Snape
Now that I'm at liberty to procrastinate again, I decided to go through my Harry Potter folder, and what should I find but a little rant on Severus Snape in Half-Blood Prince? He is INNOCENT, I say. What say you?
Warning: (At times) Nonsensical rambling to follow.
Severus Snape: Now here’s the character who fascinates me the most. There is no other character from any other book I’ve ever read who I want to know as much about as Severus Snape. He’s a paradox, a conundrum, a puzzle Rowling throws at her readers to futilely attempt to solve. He confuses me, confounds me, and frustrates me so much I am tempted to tear the books apart in search of his true identity, his real persona, his heart. In truth, I have to admit that before this I’ve never suspected him to be on Voldemort’s side. After all, Dumbledore did say he trusted Snape explicitly, and since Dumbledore is, as I’ve said, nearly always correct, I followed along. And in any case, Dumbledore hinted that he had his reasons, and I just assumed, like McGonagall, that he simply didn’t want to reveal them…yet.
First of all, do you remember when Snape made the Unbreakable Vow? His last vow was to kill Dumbledore if Draco couldn’t. Did you notice that right before forswearing that, for just a slight second, he hesitated? Rowling says there was a moment of silence. She also said, a little before that, that his hand twitched in Narcissa’s hand but he held firm. It doesn’t seem to be overly far-fetched to assume that he was reluctant to make this promise. But, of course, he did make the promise, so we’ll disregard this.
Moving on through the book, Dumbledore gives Snape the Defense Against the Dark Arts positions, which Snape’s coveted since the first day he took on a job at Hogwarts. Snape explains himself, in the second chapter, that Dumbledore refused and continues to refuse him the position because he’s afraid (supposedly anyway) that Snape will be tempted back to his darker side. So, following this idea, why then would Dumbledore suddenly give Snape this position now? With the Dark Lord milling about and Snape constantly in his attendance, pretending to be the Dark Lord’s loyal servant, how can Dumbledore suddenly find it within reason to “tempt” Snape with this? To be perfectly honest, I don’t have the answer to this; I’ve only speculations and guesswork, like Dumbledore!
At one point in the book, Hagrid tells Harry that Snape and Dumbledore had an argument. Hagrid says, “I jus’ heard Snape sayin’ Dumbledore took too much fer granted an’ maybe he—Snape—didn’ wan’ ter do it anymore…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.” (p.405-406) At the time, Harry just assumed that the “it” the two were arguing about was the Defense Against the Dark Arts position. But that’s a little trivial, don’t you think? Of course it’s always possible they were talking about the teaching job, but far more likely is the possibility that they were talking about Snape’s other job, as a spy. Why would Snape want to quit? So that he could join Voldemort once and for all? But if that’s so, then why does he need to quit his job as spy? Wouldn’t it be more fruitful to keep on spying up to the last minute? And besides Snape’s advantage and disadvantage in all this, what of Dumbledore? Can we truly, honestly believe that Dumbledore—the epitome of love and justice—would force Snape to continue spying if Snape said he didn’t want to do it anymore? So, maybe it was the other way around, and Snape wanted to quit because he felt he was no longer fully capable of spying for Dumbledore. In that case, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. BUT, there’s still one more possibility we’re neglecting. This may seem an awfully long stretch to you, but bear with me for a few paragraphs. What if Dumbledore knew he was going to die in the near future and asked Snape to be the one to kill him? What if Snape hesitantly agreed at first (the way he did in the second chapter, only to Narcissa Malfoy), but now, Snape doesn’t feel up to it anymore?
Since Snape doesn’t appear all that much in this book, let’s jump straight to the end now, shall we? So, Dumbledore, incredibly weakened by the green gooey potion, returns to Hogwarts with Harry. And the entire way, he keeps telling Harry to get “Severus.” He doesn’t just say this once but repeatedly. Isn’t this strange? I mean, granted, he’s weak and we can probably presume he wants to take a strengthening potion Snape has stored somewhere, but knowing Dumbledore as we do, would that really be his first priority? Not when there’s a Horcrux waiting to be revealed in his cloak, I don’t think. So why then does Dumbledore keep pleading for Severus? (Actually, Becca, at this point I considered that Dumbledore might be gay, but the idea was so laughable I gave it up. Rowling wouldn’t inflict that on her younger readers…) Do you remember what Dumbledore was doing while he drank that green gooey potion? He was pleading; he was begging! Rowling doesn’t let us know what he was imagining in his mind, but right after that he was asking for Severus. Hmm…connection? ~_~ I really can’t be sure of any connections I make though, not until Rowling has proven or discredited my words in the next book. And while there’s undoubtedly a connection here, what it is exactly is so disputable that I don’t have the time or energy to begin. So I’ll move on.
Pages 595-596 give testimony to Dumbledore’s awful death. Snape sweeps into the room, his wand out. Dumbledore pleads his name, “Severus…” And Harry says “the sound frightened him beyond anything he had experience all evening. For the first time, Dumbledore was pleading.” Dumbledore continues “pleading”: “Severus…please…” What is this? Dumbledore pleading? What is he pleading for Snape to do? Our first thought is this: Dumbledore is pleading for Snape to save him. But wait. Would Dumbledore do something of that sort? Would he be so cowardly as that? Of course not! So then, our clever minds reach the conclusion that Dumbledore, being just as clever as we are, has begun to suspect that perhaps Snape is not on his side, as he’d always thought. So Dumbledore is pleading for Snape to prove his loyalty to him then. Except…right before Snape and the other Death Eaters burst in, Dumbledore had been talking quite calmly to Malfoy, and he’d said, in no uncertain terms, “We must agree to differ on that, Draco. It so happens that I trust Professor Snape” (p. 588). If Dumbledore had been unsure of this, he would not have said what he did. So, we are back at square one. What, exactly, was Dumbledore pleading for Snape to do? My answer: to fulfill Snape’s promise and kill him (Dumbledore).
All very well and good, you might say, but none of it fits with Snape’s character. In response, I simply have to ask, how do you know Snape’s character? How do you know for sure, I mean? He’s so complex, so full of contradictions, he could really be interpreted in any way. I believe Snape’s coldness is a sham. I believe he’s actually quite capable of caring for others and he does. Would he have agreed to help Narcissa, would he have agreed to compromise his own position just to help Narcissa, if he did not care just a little bit? And the way he treats Draco is very telling. On page 602, Harry begins attacking Snape and Snape yells out, “Run, Draco!” while turning to face Harry himself. Perhaps it’s my own foolish thinking, but I heard emotion in those words, in that sacrifice of himself to help another get away. Of course, the situation wasn’t so drastic for Snape and he knew it, but what you must agree with is that he urged Draco to get away while turning to face the adversary himself.
Besides Draco, who’s the other person Snape has shown any caring for or helped in some way? Well, there’s Harry. Yes, Harry. Remember Snape saving Harry in the first book? At the time, Dumbledore explained that Snape had done so because he owed Harry’s father for saving Snape’s life. But if Snape’s so cruel and merciless as to be spying on Dumbledore for Voldemort, then would he honestly be so honorable as to repay one small deed James had done for him years before? I don’t think so, not from the way it looks James had always treated him and not from the way Snape has always hated Harry with such intensity. I have to make this point, Becca. Snape has never ever intentionally or otherwise hurt Harry (except for that one bit at the end, but I’ll get there in a second). In fact, on page 603, Snape yells, “No!…Have you forgotten our orders? Potter belongs to the Dark Lord—we are to leave him!” He stops the others from using the Cruciatus Curse on Harry. But his excuse for doing this seems a bit flimsy. I don’t recall the Dark Lord ever forbidding anyone to make Harry suffer a bit before bringing him in. And even if Voldemort had ordered something of the sort, Snape never struck me as someone who always strictly followed the rules. His words on p. 603 were a bit like something Bellatrix would say, and I think you’ll agree that Severus Snape is definitely nothing like Bellatrix Lestrange. And even at the end, with Harry throwing curses after curses at Snape, Snape merely deflects them and doesn’t fight back. It wouldn’t have been hard for him to “accidentally” throw a curse back at Harry “in defense of himself,” but he never did it. In fact, Snape seems to help Harry at this point. He says on page 603 (once again), “Blocked again and again and again until you learn to keep your mouth shut and your mind closed, Potter!” I understand he’s sneering as he says this, so it’s easy to pass over. Another one of Snape’s taunts, you think. But I think Snape’s too clever and careful of a person to let slip something as important as that in a mere taunt. He’s teaching Harry that he, Harry, needs to learn how to “keep his mouth shut and his mind closed.” In short, Harry needs to not only learn how to perform nonverbal spells but also learn Occlumency. That’s quite a useful hint to be handing out to one who will eventually face Lord Voldemort himself.
But Snape hurts Harry after that, now you might say. He had no qualms throwing Harry backwards onto the ground and hitting Harry with a “white-hot, whiplike” curse (p. 604). I must assent that he did curse Harry—it’s in the book after all, but I must also insist that we look at the context of this. Snape only hurts Harry after Harry tries to use “Sectumsepora” on him, which happens to be a spell the HBP came up with, right? And Snape, revealed (shockingly) to be the HBP, gets riled that Harry would “use his own spells against him…like his filthy father…” Then, Harry has the nerve to call Snape a coward for the second time. Snape didn’t take it well the first time (on top of page 603), insulting Harry’s father in retaliation. The second time around, already enraged about Harry using his own curses against him the same way James and his peanut gallery did, Snape turns a bit…er, mad. Rowling certainly writes it that way. “[Snape’s] face was suddenly demented, inhuman, as though he was in as much pain as the yelping, howling dog stuck in the burning house…” And Snape yells “DON’T CALL ME COWARD!” which is also when he slashes Harry with that whiplike spell. In Snape’s defense, I’ll say that he was provoked. Sufficiently? Provoked enough to justify his actions? No. But I at least will allow him a bit of leeway. We all have our faults eh? And Snape always seemed most sensitive when it came to James Potter, and he was surely reminded of that in this instance. Besides, if we believe that Snape really did not want to kill Dumbledore, then it would have upset him that Harry was calling him a coward for killing Dumbledore. And with Snape’s volatile, disturbed temperament…
Snape actually gets angry at Harry at various times throughout all the books because he can’t hold back and he loses control! This has always surprised me, Snape being a very cool and collected person, someone who always seems in control of himself. To my thinking, there must be something in his past with regards to James…what is it, I wonder?
There was one flaw in all my hard thinking, and it is this. Before killing Dumbledore, “Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face.” (p. 595) If Rowling expressly stated that Snape feels “revulsion and hatred” for Dumbledore, then I have nothing more to argue, and everything I have said before this would be worth nil. However, we are taking it for granted that Rowling said this. No, Rowling only said that Snape felt “revulsion and hatred”; she never told us who Snape felt that revulsion and hatred towards. Is it so far-fetched that Snape could have been directing such “revulsion and hatred” at himself? Is it not possible that Snape could have been hating himself for killing this man, his benefactor?
His Benefactor: There’s one thing I’ve always been fairly certain of, and that is that Dumbledore is Severus’s best friend. I don’t know about Dumbledore’s side in this, but if we look at life from Severus’s perspective… Dumbledore was the one who saved and redeemed Severus, the one who believed he had repented and returned to the good side, the one who cared and understood him. (Yes, this is assuming Severus is spying for Dumbledore and not for Voldemort.) Dumbledore is Severus Snape’s benefactor. And so, Severus would be repulsed by the very idea of killing Dumbledore. He would not want to do it. Perhaps, in his argument with Dumbledore, overheard by Hagrid, he was saying, “You just take it for granted that I can do this, that I can be so cold as to just—just kill you because you asked me to! I know I promised, but I don’t want to do it anymore! I can’t!”
Once again, Dumbledore trusts Snape. And Dumbledore, though everyone calls him a “trusting fool,” is no one’s fool. Yes, we know that Snape is an accomplished Legilimens, we know that he’s by Voldemort’s side so often it wouldn’t be hard for him to return to his old ways, but Dumbledore knows all this too! Moreover, Dumbledore knows that he’ll make mistakes, great mistakes (says so somewhere earlier in the book, but I’m too lazy to look it up right now…maybe later). Dumbledore will have taken every precaution, double, triple, and quadruple-checked everything he had before taken for “granted,” and we know Dumbledore doesn’t take anything for granted anyway. So we would have expected him to be at least a tiny bit wary of Snape, but in stark contradiction to this, Dumbledore shows an inordinate amount of trust in Snape (to the point where I even wondered if Dumbledore had fallen in love with him, hehe). And, in conclusion, “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 judgment. I do; therefore, I trust Severus.” (Remus’s words, page 332) Spoken brilliantly. And I do believe he’s right.