Dumbledore’s Trust in Snape, Part 2: More Than a Potions Master
by D.W. Hill (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Table of Contents
Snape Knows, One Way or the Other
Snape the Grump
Other Benefits of Nastiness
Suspicions, Eye Contact & Other Possibilities
Dumbledore’s Rock in Sorcerer’s Stone
Experiments in Parseltongue
Severus Snape is arguably the most controversial character in contemporary fiction. J. K. Rowling has carefully obfuscated the Harry Potter books to fuel, maintain and prolong this ambiguity. Dumbledore, however, has had unswerving support for his greasy-haired friend. This support has caused him to place Snape, not only in the role of Potions Master and – more recently – Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, but to give him other responsibilities and authority. Whether or not Dumbledore’s trust will ultimately be shown as justified, Snape has had access to information which no other character has been shown to possess. What he does with that information could either give Harry a leg up or be his downfall.
In my last essay, I discussed the early relationship between Snape and Dumbledore. We saw that by the time Snape came to Hogwarts as a student, Dumbledore already had strong suspicions about Voldemort’s guilt in a number of murders, his interest in making at least one Horcrux from trophies he collected from those victims, and — most importantly, in the case of Severus Snape – Voldemort’s interest in recruiting children. We looked at information suggesting that Snape was influenced as a child by Voldemort and that Dumbledore was unable to do much about it. I concluded that Dumbledore’s trust in Snape, when he returned, was due to the fact that Snape finally acknowledged that he had been victimized and manipulated by the Dark Lord – an understanding which broke through his denial when Voldemort chose not to stun Lily, but to kill her, revealing that he did not value Snape, as Snape had once believed.
This time, my opinions on the reason for Dumbledore’s trust and whether or not it will ultimately prove to be justified, are irrelevant. Dumbledore accepted Snape’s remorse as real and no doubt Snape told him he would do anything he could to help limit the damage he had caused. Whether or not you trust Snape, we all ought to be able to accept that much. So Dumbledore hires him to teach. Even if he wants to, he can’t give him the DADA job because he has known that it has been jinxed since he refused the post to Lord Voldemort (which happened at or near the beginning of Snape’s days as a student), and he needs to keep Snape around.
Initially, Snape’s role as a double agent is short-lived. He may have been the useful spy about whom Cornelius Fudge speaks in the Three Broomsticks in PoA – the spy who tipped Dumbledore off that Voldemort was after the Potters. In any event, Voldemort is vanquished not long after Snape returns to Dumbledore’s side.
After Voldemort’s downfall, how could Snape help Dumbledore? Snape has many skills and talents beyond his abilities as a Potions teacher. He is a skilled Occlumens and Legilimens, with a logical mind that can design and conduct experiments.
We will take an in-depth look at the things Snape does while Harry is at school, and see that Snape helps Dumbledore, not only prepare Harry for the job ahead, but helps Dumbledore acquire crucial information. In addition, some of you questioned my contention in “Severus Snape: A Portrait in Subtlety” (posted on Mugglenet 3/3/07) that Snape, mean though he is, is nonetheless right about Harry, most of the time. You suggested that there are times when he is quite wrong about Harry, and at least one person has lamented that I did not bring up things which would conflict with my theory. I will show how Snape uses accusation to get information from Harry about matters unrelated to what he appears to be talking about. Also, I am including explanations of other Snape moments which I personally have had a hard time reconciling with my hope that Snape will ultimately be shown to be Dumbledore’s man.
Snape Knows, One Way or the Other
There are several issues regarding Dumbledore’s trust in Snape. The most important, of course, is that he does trust Severus Snape. On the night he dies, Dumbledore says, I trust Severus Snape completely. (HBP, 549) In terms of what Snape actually knows, however, there are only two questions:
- Did Dumbledore’s trust in Snape mean that he was candid with him about his suspicions? In other words, did Dumbledore share his suspicions that Voldemort made a Horcrux and is, therefore, wasn’t really gone and that there is a magical connection between Voldemort and Harry?
- Did Snape, based on his own impressions, think Voldemort was really gone for good?
It is unlikely, given Dumbledore’s complete trust in Snape and Snape’s extraordinary abilities, that the answer to both of these questions is no. Whether Dumbledore told him or he figured it out for himself, Snape knows and we will soon see by his own actions that this must be the case. My personal belief is that Dumbledore told him. Nonetheless, we have no evidence to prove this, only actions proving that he does know.
If Dumbledore trusts Snape completely, and shares this important information with him, you might ask then, why does he keep the second half of the prophecy from him? We know by Dumbledore’s comments to Harry in the Weasleys’ broom shed, that Dumbledore did not, indeed, reveal the second half of the prophecy to Snape:
There are only two people in the world who know the full contents of the prophecy made about you and Lord Voldemort, and they are both standing in this smelly, spidery broom shed.
This strategy has two purposes. Mainly, it protects Snape in case Voldemort ever does break through his defenses. The other purpose is a bit of wishful thinking on Dumbledore’s part, and is not something he can share with Harry. Since Snape is not swayed by the second half of the prophecy, he is not lulled into thinking that Harry must kill Voldemort. This leaves open the possibility in Dumbledore’s mind that Snape may do it himself, thereby protecting Harry from the damage to his soul which murdering someone — even Voldemort — would cause. This would be a fitting action, if he is truly interested in limiting the damage to which he has contributed.
OK! I hear you screaming, Wait a moment! Harry has to kill Voldemort. Havent you read the prophecy? The question of the legitimacy of prophecy in the Harry Potter books is second only to that of Snape’s loyalty. Long before Harry, Ron, and Hermione take Divination, Hermione – based initially on Professor McGonagall’s opinions – comes down squarely against it. Professor Trelawney, in the main, is shown as a fraud. Dumbledore says that when he interviewed Trelawney, he was not inclined to allow the subject of Divination to continue at Hogwarts. On the other hand, the centaurs cast a definite air of respectability on the subject. Professor Trelawney herself has made two real prophecies; the second one – that Voldemort’s servant would return to him – has come to pass without either Voldemort or Wormtail knowing about it.
Here, Dumbledore’s words on the subject can give us a glimpse of Rowling’s ambivalence. Although the Headmaster is trying to explain what the prophecy means, he is also warning Harry against taking prophecy, in general, too literally.
“So, when the prophecy says that I’ll have ‘power the Dark Lord knows not,’ it just means – love?” asked Harry, feeling a little let down.
“Yes – just love,” said Dumbledore. ”But Harry, never forget that what the prophecy says is only significant because Voldemort made it so.”
“But it comes to the same –”
“No, it doesn’t! said Dumbledore, sounding impatient now. Pointing at Harry with his black, withered hand, he said, ”You are setting too much store by the prophecy!”
“If Voldemort had never heard of the prophecy, would it have been fulfilled? Would it have meant anything? Of course not! Do you think that every prophecy in the Hall of Prophecy has been fulfilled?”
“But,” said Harry, bewildered, :but last year, you said one of us would have to kill the other--“
“Harry, Harry, only because Voldemort made a grave error, and acted on Professor Trelawney’s words…”
“…Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do…”
“…he was on the lookout for the one who would challenge him. He heard the prophecy and he leapt into action, with the result that he not only handpicked the man most likely to finish him, he handed him uniquely deadly weapons!”
“But, Sir,” said Harry making valiant efforts not to sound argumentative, ”it all comes to the same thing, doesn’t it? I’ve got to try and kill him, or -“
“Got to? said Dumbledore. ”Of course, you’ve got to! But not because of the prophecy! Because you, yourself, will never rest until you’ve tried! We both know it!”
”You see, the prophecy does not mean that you have to do anything! But the prophecy caused Lord Voldemort to mark you as his equal… In other words, you are free to choose your way, quite free to turn your back on the prophecy! But Voldemort continues to set store by the prophecy. He will continue to hunt you… which makes it certain, really, that–”
“That one of us is going to end up killing the other,” said Harry.
Dumbledore must prepare Harry for the possibility that he will eventually be in a situation where it is “kill or be killed.” The best way to ensure Harry’s safety is to leave no doubt in Harry’s mind that he will have to do it himself. I, however, think that Dumbledore has something else up his sleeve. That something, of course, is Severus Snape. For you Snape bashers, now would be a good time to say, Dumbledore doesn’t tell Snape the second half of the prophecy because deep down he doubts Snape’s loyalty, but he can’t bring himself to face it.
Snape the Grump
Much has been made of the reprehensible way Snape has treated Harry since laying eyes on him at the start-of-term banquet in Ps/SS. In order for Snape to help Dumbledore, he needs, first and foremost, to maintain a profile consistent with what the Death Eaters and their offspring – his students at Hogwarts – would see as trustworthy. Imagine how Voldemort would have felt if he’d found out that Snape was Harry’s favorite teacher?
Obviously, Snape would have to act as though he disliked not only Harry but also what the Death Eaters called Mudbloods, blood-traitors, Muggles, and those who sympathized with them — in other words at least everyone who was not in Slytherin. And so, he does. Snape doesn’t just start being mean when Harry shows up at school. He had a reputation as nasty and hateful before Harry arrived at Hogwarts. How do we know this? How about Ron’s comments after their first Potions lesson:
”Cheer up,” said Ron. “Snape’s always taking points off Fred and George. Can I come and meet Hagrid with you?”
And if you aren’t convinced by that, here are Hagrid’s comments on that very same afternoon:
Harry told Hagrid about Snape’s lesson. Hagrid, like Ron, told Harry not to worry about it, that Snape liked hardly any of the students.
Paradoxically enough, Snape’s grumpy behavior does not make sense unless he is no longer loyal to Voldemort. If he thinks Voldemort is really gone but he is just acting like he’s sorry – in other words, if he is being honest with Bellatrix, would he really want the reputation of being so mean? After all, if he’s lying to Dumbledore, and if he believes Voldemort won’t be coming back to help him, how does such behavior help him fool the Headmaster and stay out of Azkaban? In fact, only the most arrogant and/or foolish of individuals would behave this way.
If Snape is truly sorry, he would know that he doesn’t deserve Harry’s affection, respect, or forgiveness. His remorse would not wipe away his hatred of Harry’s father or cause him to wish to expose himself to the shame of having Harry find out what he did, but trying to ingratiate himself to the boy whose parents he had gotten killed would strike a truly remorseful person as loathsome and subversive to the extreme. A truly remorseful person would want to do something to help limit the damage he caused; being liked would not be very important. In addition, pretending to be even grumpier than you really are is a great cover and not particularly difficult.
In this light, Snape’s comments to Draco outside Slughorn’s Christmas party, take on a subtle irony:
“Where do you think I would have been all these years, if I had not known how to act?”
Just exactly when is Snape acting? Whenever we see him hes mean and grumpy. In fact, his behavior is so legendary that many people in the Order of the Phoenix distrust him.
Other benefits of Nastiness
Beyond the initial benefit of keeping a believable cover as a Death Eater, Snape’s unpleasant behavior also fits Dumbledore’s other purposes. Let’s review Harry’s situation and Dumbledore’s thinking, at the time Harry arrives at Hogwarts.
At age eleven, Harry rejoins the wizarding world after ten years with the Dursleys, during which he received no love and was constantly bullied by Dudley and his thuggish friends. Harry’s babysitter, Mrs. Figg, who we learn in OotP is a squib who has been reporting to Dumbledore, would have told him early on that Harry doesn’t stand up for himself. Even Harry knows this, as evidenced by his thoughts when Hagrid tells him that hes a wizard:
Hagrid looked at Harry with warmth and respect blazing in his eyes, but Harry, instead of feeling pleased and proud, felt quite sure there had been a horrible mistake. A wizard? Him? How could he possibly be? Hed spent his life being clouted by Dudley, and bullied by Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon; if he was really a wizard, why hadn’t they been turned into warty toads every time they’d tried to lock him in his cupboard? If he’d once defeated the greatest sorcerer in the world, how come Dudley had always been able to kick him around like a football?
Furthermore, Dumbledore suspects that there is a connection between Harry and Voldemort:
“I guessed, fifteen years ago,” said Dumbledore, ”when I saw the scar upon your forehead, what it might mean. I guessed that it might be the sign of a connection forged between you and Voldemort.”
So Dumbledore knows that Voldemort is not really gone, that Harry is in danger because of the way Voldemort interpreted the prophecy, that there might be a magical connection between Harry and Voldemort, and that Harry has been bullied for ten years.
Dumbledore wants to protect Harry, which must include — since Dumbledore can’t be there for him at every turn – teaching him to stand up for himself; not an easy thing to teach a mild mannered kid, whom most of the wizarding world believes to be the hero who vanquished the Dark Lord. Enter Snape, with his unfair treatment of Harry. Harry learns to stand up for himself in front of Snape, and perhaps more importantly, Snape’s behavior keeps Harry on his guard.
If you need convincing that a decent person could or would use anger to motivate someone they care about, notice Harry’s unsuccessful efforts to get Ron ready for the first Quidditch match of the sixth book:
Finally Harry tried getting angry again in the hope of provoking Ron into a defiant, and hopefully goal-saving, attitude, but this strategy did not appear to work any better than encouragement…
Snape’s behavior also puts his victims in a position in which they are more vulnerable to Legilimency. He tells Harry in their first Occlumency lesson that you need to control your emotions, in order to be successful at using Occlumency. Snape routinely treats people in a way that causes unpleasant emotional responses, such as humiliation and anger. This would naturally make them more susceptible to having their minds penetrated.
Although Snape has, no doubt, read many minds at Hogwarts, his regular use of Legilimency is particularly important in Harry’s case. It would be a handy tool to investigate the possibility of a Harry/Voldemort link. In addition, Legilimency could provide Dumbledore with other important information which Harry is not willing to openly share. Furthermore, Snape’s ability to think logically and devise experiments could help bring new possibilities to Dumbledore’s attention.
Suspicions, Eye Contact & Other Possibilities
Rowling has the habit of laying the groundwork for the introduction of magical concepts, spells, and potions prior to their appearance in pivotal scenes. The Summoning Charm, for instance, which is so important to Harry’s victory over the dragon and his escape from the graveyard in GoF, is first used by Mrs. Weasley to get the remaining Ton-Tongue Toffees from Fred and George before they head off for the Quidditch World Cup. It is then introduced in the first Charms class.
For something which has far-reaching implications, like the possibility that Snape – whether on Dumbledore’s orders or for his own purposes — has been gleaning important information from Harry, through Legilimency, we should expect her to have given us something that would point us in that direction long before the fifth book. In fact there are several references to Harry’s suspicions which do just that. This passage comes after they learn that Snape has volunteered to referee the second Quidditch match in PS/SS:
Harry didn’t know whether he was imagining it or not, but he seemed to keep running into Snape wherever he went. At times, he even wondered whether Snape was following him, trying to catch him on his own. Potions lessons were turning into a sort of weekly torture, Snape was so horrible to Harry. Could Snape possibly know they’d found out about the Sorcerer’s Stone? Harry didn’t see how he could – yet he sometimes had the horrible feeling that Snape could read minds.
After crashing the flying car into the Whomping Willow, we read:
“Silence!” said Snape coldly. ”What have you done with the car?”
Ron gulped. This wasn’t the first time Snape had given Harry the impression of being able to read minds. But a moment later, he understood, as Snape unrolled todays issue of the Evening Prophet.
The day Harry threw a firework into Goyle’s cauldron we read:
“If I ever find out who threw this,” Snape whispered, “I shall make sure that person is expelled.”
Harry arranged his face in what he hoped was a puzzled expression. Snape was looking right at him, and the bell that rang ten minutes later could not have been more welcome.
“He knew it was me,” Harry told Ron and Hermione as they hurried back to Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. ”I could tell.”
Can we prove that Snape has been doing Legilimency on Harry all along? To be a viable theory, we must show that Snape had the opportunity. In their first Occlumency lesson, Snape tells Harry, Eye contact is often essential to Legilimency. (OotP, 531) For our purposes, we will set aside the implication in that statement that sometimes Legilimency can be done without eye contact. We will examine only those scenes where eye contact is specifically mentioned.
In fact, until he begins Occlumency lessons, in the middle of his fifth year, and Snape tells him about eye contact and Legilimency, Harry deliberately looks into Snape’s eyes on many occasions. Though we do have instances of him looking into Dumbledore’s eyes – the only Legilimens we know about other than Snape and Voldemort – eye contact in general is not often mentioned in the Potter books. The first example of Harry’s deliberate eye contact with Snape is during his first Potions lesson. Snape is bullying Harry about not knowing the answer to several questions:
Harry forced himself to keep looking straight into those cold eyes.
In his third year, when Snape catches Harry after Harry goes to Hogsmeade illegally, we read:
Snape’s eyes were boring into Harry’s. It was exactly like trying to stare down a hippogriff. Harry tried hard not to blink.
Dumbledore’s trust in Snape, Harry’s suspicions about Snape’s ability to read minds, and a boatload of references to scenes in which Snape could be doing Legilimency, support the notion that Snape, as part of his responsibilities to the Order and Dumbledore, has been gathering information this way all along. In short, Snape is keeping an eye on Harry – the eye of a highly skilled Legilimens.
For all of you Snape bashers, notice that to believe this you do not have to abandon the notion that Snape is not loyal to Dumbledore. Dumbledore’s trust in Snape puts Snape in a position to learn information about all sorts of people and do with it as he likes. If you do not believe that Dumbledore could or would permit Snape to either act in a nasty fashion or obtain information from students through Legilimency, then you are forced to conclude that Dumbledore not only has been hoodwinked by Snape, but also that he is oblivious to what goes on openly not only in his school but right in front of him. Furthermore, there are several significant scenes in which Snape does things which – if he doesn’t know about Dumbledore’s suspicions – must simply be viewed as very peculiar accidents.
Legilimency, however, is not the only way in which Snape has been gathering information about Harry; and gathering information isnt the only way he is assisting Dumbledore. Since his role in Harry’s development takes various forms, we will examine it chronologically.
Dumbledore’s Rock in Sorcerer’s Stone
Snape’s first opportunity to learn anything from Harry is at the start-of-term banquet in PS/SS:
It happened very suddenly. The hooked-nose teacher looked past Quirrell’s turban straight into Harry’s eyes – and a sharp, hot pain shot across the scar on Harry’s forehead.
Does Snape realize that Harry is having pains in his scar? Just over a month before this scene, Dumbledore suspects that the Sorcerer’s Stone is vulnerable at Gringotts and has Hagrid remove it. On that very day, someone tries to break into the high security vault in which the Stone had been. Snape devises a fiery and poisonous logic puzzle as one of the barricades in the dungeons; therefore, we know that Snape is in on the efforts to protect the Stone.
I can’t imagine that Snape – given his abilities and his fondness for potion-making, as evidenced by his old textbook – does not already know all about the Sorcerer’s Stone. Nonetheless, even if Dumbledore hasn’t told him and even if Snape does not initially know that it is used to make the Elixir of Life, which can keep you alive as long as you drink it, he could have easily found that information in the library as Hermione eventually does. With this information, whether or not Dumbledore has told him that he thinks Voldemort is not really gone, Snape could guess that it must be Voldemort from whom Dumbledore is trying to protect the Stone. If Snape does realize that Harry’s scar hurts, this might be their first clue that Voldemort is at Hogwarts.
Snape orchestrates another opportunity to read Harry’s mind in their first Potions class. As we have already seen, Harry forces himself to look directly into Snape’s eyes so we have opportunity. Personally, I think this is just practice for Snape. As for what information he may have gleaned, lets expand the quote a bit:
“Thought you wouldn’t open a book before coming, eh, Potter?” Harry forced himself to keep looking straight into those cold eyes. He had looked through his books at the Dursleys’, but did Snape expect him to remember everything in One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi?
So he knows Harry looked at his books at the Dursleys. Not exactly an earth-shaking revelation. But he also knows that he is getting to Harry. For a Legilimens, that is something to build on.
Throughout PS/SS, Snape is working hard behind the scenes, saving Harry’s life, chasing Quirrell/Voldemort around the castle on Halloween, and confronting Quirrell in the Forbidden Forest. In fact, this confrontation is worded in a way which suggests that he – at the very least – suspects that Quirrell is not after the Stone for himself:
“Very well,” Snape cut in. “We’ll have another little chat soon, when you’ve had time to think things over and decided where your loyalties lie.”
Where your Loyalties lie? Wouldn’t that be a weird way of putting it if Snape thinks Quirrell wants the Stone just for himself?
Something which has always puzzled me in this first book, is what happens on Christmas night when Harry first uses the Invisibility Cloak. He ends up running away from the library, where he had gone to read up on Nicholas Flamel, and finds the Mirror of Erised. Its after midnight, and look at where Snape is:
He came to a sudden halt in front of a tall suit of armor. He had been so busy getting away from the library, he hadn’t paid attention to where he was going. Perhaps because it was dark, he didn’t recognize where he was at all. There was a suit of armor near the kitchens, he knew, but he must be five floors above there.
“You asked me to come directly to you, Professor, if anyone was wandering around at night, and somebodys been in the library – Restricted Section.”
Harry felt the blood drain out of his face. Wherever he was, Filch must know a shortcut, because his soft, greasy voice was getting nearer, and to his horror, it was Snape who replied, “The Restricted Section? Well, they can’t be far, we’ll catch them.”
Harry stood rooted to the spot as Filch and Snape came around the corner ahead. They couldn’t see him, of course, but it was a narrow corridor and if they came much nearer theyd knock right into him – the cloak didn’t stop him from being solid.
He backed away as quietly as he could. A door stood ajar to his left. It was his only hope. He squeezed through it, holding his breath, trying not to move it, and to his relief he managed to get inside the room without their noticing anything. They walked straight past, and Harry leaned against the wall, breathing deeply, listening to their footsteps dying away.
Why is Snape up there and where is Dumbledore? My theory is that Dumbledore assumes Harry will use the cloak and figures Filch might realize someone is out of bed, even if he can’t see them. Dumbledore wants to give Harry an opportunity to find the Mirror. Whether Harry stumbles on the Mirror accidentally, or Dumbledore has some role in directing him there, I do not know. Snape’s role, however, could not be clearer. He gets Filch to come to him directly, instead of trying to chase Harry on his own. Then Snape leads him away from where the Mirror is and on a wild goose chase. Dumbledore is there using his own way of being invisible and, therefore, knows exactly when Filch shows up and which way they are headed.
Does Dumbledore tell Snape right up front that he has given Harry his fathers old Invisibility Cloak? We know Snape finds out somehow because of this sentence in PoA when he reveals himself to Lupin, Black, Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Shrieking Shack:
“I found this at the base of the Whomping Willow,” said Snape, throwing the cloak aside, careful to keep his wand pointing directly at Lupin’s chest. “Very useful, Potter, I thank you… “(PoA, 358)
Snape doesn’t appear to be in any doubt as to whose cloak he has borrowed.
Experiments in Parseltongue
Snape’s role in CoS takes on a more experimental flavor. Harry is caught at the scene of the attack on Filchs cat. Notice the actions of Snape and Dumbledore in Lockharts office. Could either of them be doing Legilimency? For Legilimency to be fruitful, we need not only eye contact and a heightened emotional state on Harry’s part, but some clue as to what Harry is thinking.
“If I might speak, Headmaster,” said Snape from the shadows, and Harry’s sense of foreboding increased; he was sure nothing Snape had to say was going to do him any good. “Potter and his friends may have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said, a slight sneer curling his mouth as though he doubted it. ”But we do have a set of suspicious circumstances here. Why was he in the upstairs corridor at all? Why wasn’t he at the Halloween feast?”
Harry, Ron and Hermione all launched into an explanation about the deathday party.
”…There were hundreds of ghosts, they’ll tell you we were there -”
”But why not join the feast afterward?” said Snape, his black eyes glittering in the candlelight. “Why go up to that corridor?”
Ron and Hermione looked at Harry.
”Because – because -” Harry said, his heart thumping very fast; something told him it would sound very far-fetched if he told them he had been led there by a bodiless voice no one but he could hear, “because we were tired and wanted to go to bed,” he said.
”Without any supper?” said Snape, a triumphant smile flickering across his gaunt face. ”I didn’t think ghosts provided food fit for living people at their parties.”
“We weren’t hungry,” said Ron loudly as his stomach gave a huge rumble.
Snape’s nasty smile widened.
”I suggest, Headmaster, that Potter is not being entirely truthful,” he said. “It might be a good idea if he were deprived of certain privileges until he is ready to tell us the whole story. I personally feel he should be taken off the Gryffindor Quidditch team until he is ready to be honest.”
“Really, Severus,” said Professor McGonagall sharply, ”I see no reason to stop the boy playing Quidditch. This cat wasn’t hit over the head with a broomstick. There is no evidence at all that Potter has done anything wrong.”
Dumbledore was giving Harry a searching look. His twinkling light-blue gaze made Harry feel as though he were being X-rayed.
”Innocent until proven guilty, Severus,” he said firmly.
In spite of what Professor McGonagall seems to think, the real information that Snape and Dumbledore are looking for is not whether Harry himself attacked Mrs. Norris, but what he knows about the attack. Harry is thinking about the disembodied voice just after Snape starts addressing him directly and just after we – and presumably Harry, since this section is written from his perspective – see Snape’s eyes. Harry doesn’t know what the disembodied voice is, so the best Snape can do is to say that the boy definitely heard a voice at the time of this attack. What, if anything, Dumbledore may have gleaned from X-raying Harry is not clear.
Fast forward to the next attack. Harry is in the Hospital Wing when it happens. Dumbledore had been teaching at Hogwarts the first time the Chamber of Secrets was opened and suspected Riddle at the time. We know Dumbledore believes the Chamber of Secrets has been opened again by these statements to McGonagall in the Hospital Wing when they bring Colin Creevey in:
“What does this mean, Albus?” Professor McGonagall asked urgently.
“It means,” said Dumbledore, “that the Chamber of Secrets is indeed open again. …”
“The question is not who,” said Dumbledore, his eyes on Colin. ”The question is, how…”
Dumbledore has known, from the day he met Tom Riddle, that he is a Parselmouth. He believes that Harry’s scar represents a connection between Harry and Voldemort. Dumbledore – at least initially – does not, however, know the nature of that connection. It is reasonable to assume that he would be curious to know if Harry is able to understand snake language. Snape’s insight into Harry’s mind after the attack on Mrs. Norris – that Harry is hearing a disembodied voice — gives Dumbledore the suspicion that Harry is a Parselmouth and that the monster behind the attacks might be a snake. After all, the snake is the symbol of Slytherin House and Salazar Slytherin was a Parselmouth. Its no big leap to suspect that Slytherins monster is a snake as well. Nonetheless, a suspicion is not proof.At the first and only meeting of the Dueling club, everyone finds out that Harry is, indeed, a Parselmouth. The whole thing is cleverly orchestrated by Snape, who agrees to be Lockharts assistant. No doubt, he has seen and heard of Lockharts inept ways. He is counting on Lockhart to be his usual bungling self.
Snape gains the upper hand with Lockhart right from the start by disarming him. Then he puts Harry and Draco together. Next, when Lockhart wants to use Neville and Justin to demonstrate how to block unfriendly jinxes, Snape convinces Lockhart that it would be a bad idea and suggests Harry and Draco. Then Snape whispers to Malfoy and Malfoy casts a spell producing a live snake. Why would Snape want him to do that? If you don’t believe that Dumbledore is candid with Snape and shares his suspicions about Voldemort not really being gone, and the connection between Harry’s scar and Voldemort, you’re pretty much stuck with the idea that it was a random act of bullying that coincidently tied into the reality of the giant serpent behind the attacks – a literary device, nothing more. Otherwise, this act becomes a controlled experiment to find out how Harry reacts to snakes:
“Now, Harry,” said Lockhart, ”When Draco points his wand at you, you do this.” He raised his own wand, attempted a complicated sort of wiggling action, and dropped it. Snape smirked as Lockhart quickly picked it up, saying, ”Wh0oops – my wand is a little over-excited -”
Snape moved closer to Malfoy, bent down, and whispered something in his ear. Malfoy smirked, too. Harry looked up nervously at Lockhart and said, ”Professor, could you show me that blocking thing again?”
”Scared?” muttered Malfoy, so that Lockhart couldn’t hear him.
”You wish,” said Harry out of the corner of his mouth.
Lockhart cuffed Harry merrily on the shoulder. ”Just do what I did, Harry!”
”What, drop my wand?”
But Lockhart wasn’t listening.
“Three – two – one – go!” he shouted.
Malfoy raised his wand quickly and bellowed, “Serpensorcia!”
The end of his wand exploded. Harry watched, aghast, as a long black snake shot out of it, fell heavily onto the floor between them, and raised itself, ready to strike. There were screams as the crowd backed swiftly away, clearing the floor.
“Don’t move, Potter,” said Snape lazily, clearly enjoying the sight of Harry standing motionless, eye to eye with the angry snake. “I’ll get rid of it…”
“Allow me!” shouted Lockhart. He brandished his wand at the snake and there was a loud bang; the snake, instead of vanishing, flew ten feet into the air and fell back to the floor with a loud smack. Enraged, hissing furiously, it slithered toward Justin Finch-Fletchley and raised itself again, fangs exposed, poised to strike.
Harry wasn’t sure what made him do it. He wasn’t even aware of deciding to do it. All he knew was that his legs were carrying him forward as though he was on casters and that he had shouted stupidly at the snake, ”Leave him alone!” And miraculously – inexplicably – the snake slumped to the floor, docile as a thick, black garden hose, its eyes now on Harry. Harry felt the fear drain out of him. He knew the snake wouldn’t attack anyone now, though how he knew it, he couldn’t have explained.
He looked up at Justin, grinning, expecting to see Justin looking relieved, or puzzled, or even grateful – but certainly not angry and scared.
”What do you think you’re playing at?” he shouted, and before Harry could say anything, Justin had turned and stormed out of the hall.
Snape stepped forward, waved his wand, and the snake vanished in a small puff of black smoke. Snape, too, was looking at Harry in an unexpected way: It was a shrewd and calculating look, and Harry didn’t like it.
Snape is quicker than Lockhart. We know that. Nonetheless, he doesn’t manage to get a Vanishing spell off before the inept Lockhart’s spell sends the snake on a tear after Justin? He can’t get rid of it once he sees Lockhart’s mistake? Come on! In fact, he doesn’t vanish it until after he has seen how Harry responds to it and how the snake responds to Harry.
As we saw earlier in this essay, Snape has an opportunity to learn through Legilimency that it is Harry who throws the firework into Goyles cauldron. Harry, however, does not appear to be thinking about Hermione stealing ingredients for the Polyjuice Potion at the time. Therefore, we cannot be sure that Snape has any idea of why Harry did it. We never have any indication that Snape has noticed the missing ingredients, so whether or not he eventually makes the connection is not at all clear.
Snape’s other major contribution, in Harry’s second year, is that it is he who makes the Mandrake Potion which revives the victims of the Basilisk. In the next installment, we will go on to Snape’s role in PoA and see what could be a rift developing between the Potions Master and Dumbledore.