Editor's note: This editorial was sent to us shortly after the release of HBP, and was recently rediscovered. Seriously, we received about 20 editorials a day on this subject alone and a few, like this one, inevitably slipped through the cracks. Our apologies. Enjoy!
Severus Snape: Not Voldemort's Man
An original editorial by Anthony Goldstein
Much has been written and speculated about Severus Snape, and thats as it should be. It seems to me that J.K. Rowling has taken no small pains to ensure that Snape remains enigmatic to the last.
I dont want to go over well-trodden ground too much, but I will note the fact that the major Snape-related events in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince are at least susceptible to multiple interpretations. The very volume of quality debate, I think, proves this point. Whether you assume that Snapes loyalties lie with Voldemort, with Dumbledore, or with neither, you can form a logical and consistent explanation of his chat at Spinners End, his various actions during the bulk of the book, and of course the climactic scenes on the Astronomy Tower and immediately afterward.
Eliminating a Possibility
There have been good arguments on all sides of the debate, but what we really need is a rock-solid contradiction: something that eliminates at least one possibility about Snape, thus narrowing the field. I think Ive found one, and it demonstrates that Snape is not loyal to Voldemort.
As any logician can tell you, if you assume that something is true and that assumption leads to a contradiction, the assumption has just been proven false. So lets assume that Snape is loyal to Voldemort, and with that assumption in mind, take a look at Chapter 2 of HBP, Spinners End.
First of all, I assert that what Snape says in this chapter is his official story to the Death Eaters -- and also to Voldemort. How do we know that this is the case, since we see him talking to Narcissa and Bellatrix, not Voldemort himself? Because he invites them to pass the story along:
You can carry my words back to the others who whisper behind my back, and carry false tales of my treachery to the Dark Lord!
-HBP, pg. 26
If this werent Snapes official story to Voldemort, his invitation to tell all of the Death Eaters would be risking a lie being brought to Voldemorts attention. That could prove fatal for someone so recently brought back into the fold after being thought a traitor. So what we hear Snape say in this chapter may as well have been said to Voldemort, and since were assuming that Snape is loyal to Voldemort, it must therefore also be true.
Which leads to the contradiction. In the process of explaining why he didnt kill Harry, Snape explains a little about how he perceived Harry at first, and how that perception changed:
But there was more to it than that. I should remind you that when Potter first arrived at Hogwarts there were still many stories circulating about him, rumors that he himself was a great Dark wizard, which was how he had survived the Dark Lords attack. Indeed, many of the Dark Lords old followers thought Potter might be a standard around which we could all rally once more. I was curious, I admit it, and not at all inclined to murder him the moment he set foot in the castle...Of course, it became apparent to me very quickly that he had no extraordinary talent at all.
-HBP, pp. 30-31
But we know, as no Death Eater could, that this isnt true. If we hark back to the very first book, we see that Snape never for a moment gave Harry the benefit of the doubt. Snape never, in other words, had the time to question whether Harry was a great Dark wizard, then reject that possibility.
The very, very first time we hear of Professor Snape is just after Harry has been sorted into Gryffindor:
Professor Quirrel, in his absurd turban, was talking to a teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and sallow skin.
It happened very suddenly. The hook-nosed teacher looked past Quirrels turban straight into Harrys eyes -- and a sharp, hot pain shot across the scar on Harrys forehead.
Ouch! Harry clapped a hand to his head.
What is it? asked Percy.
The pain had gone as quickly as it had come. Harder to shake off was the feeling Harry had gotten from the teachers look -- a feeling that he didnt like Harry at all.
-SS, pg. 126
Snape has had nothing but a glance at Harry across the Great Hall, and already he hates him. Are we to suppose that he can tell by looking whether Harry is a dark wizard or not? No, I think rather that he never believed Harry could have been that; in other words, never believed what he told Narcissa and Bellatrix he believed.
Of course, this initial scene might just have been Harrys misinterpretation of Snapes look. After all, Snape was talking to Quirrel (possessed by Voldemort, leading to Harrys scar-ache). But in the very next chapter, we again see Snape taking an anti-Harry position before having a chance to evaluate him:
Snape, like Flitwick, started the class by taking the roll call, and like Flitwick, he paused at Harrys name.
Ah, yes, he said softly, Harry Potter. Our new -- celebrity.
...[Snape gives his opening speech on bottling fame, brewing glory, and stoppering death.]
Potter! said Snape suddenly. What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?
Powdered root of what to an infusion of what? Harry glanced at Ron, who looked as stumped as he was; Hermiones hand had shot into the air.
I dont know, sir, said Harry.
Snapes lips curled into a sneer.
Tut, tut -- fame clearly isnt everything.
-SS, pp. 136-137
One could argue that, even after the celebrity dig, the question about asphodel and wormwood was the evaluation Snape needed. But I think that argument to be fairly weak for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Im sure that Tom Riddle himself, asked the same question on his second day at Hogwarts, would not have had the right answer at hand.
This is Snape simply being nasty to Harry, not evaluating him. And so, we must conclude that Snape is not loyal to Voldemort. If he were, then his statement made at Spinner's End about his initial impressions of Harry would be true. Looking at their first meetings, however, those statements cannot be true. Whatever else he is, Snape is not Voldemorts man, through and through.
But is He Dumbledores?
Of course, just because Snape isnt loyal to Voldemort doesnt mean that he is loyal to Dumbledore. Its entirely possible -- even likely, in my opinion -- that hes loyal to neither. And yet, I dont think we can wholly eliminate the possibility that he is in fact loyal to Dumbledore. Here, however, we will be leaving the firm foundation of fact and journeying into thickets of wildest guesswork (with apologies to Dumbledore).
Dumbledore was many things, but he was not a stupid man. Further, he was not the starry-eyed optimist that the Death Eaters believed, or Harry feared, him to be. Yes, he was famous for giving people second chances, but not at the cost of blinding himself to the risks. To prove this, we only need look as far as the arrival of Tom Riddle. An alarming young man when Dumbledore first met him, but Dumbledore gave Tom a second chance -- the opportunity not to be the sadistic loner he appeared to be. Yet at the same time, Dumbledore was wary:
Did I know that I had just met the most dangerous Dark wizard of all time? said Dumbledore. No, I had no idea that he was to grow up to be what he is. However, I was certainly intrigued by him. I returned to Hogwarts intending to keep an eye upon him, something I should have done in any case, given that he was alone and friendless, but which, already, I felt I ought to do for others sake as much as his.
-HBP, pg. 276
However, if he was frightening or impressing fellow Slytherins with displays of Parseltongue in their common room, no hint of it reached the staff. He showed no sign of outward arrogance or aggression at all. As an unusually talented and very good-looking orphan, he naturally drew attention and sympathy from the staff almost from the moment of his arrival. He seemed polite, quiet, and thirsty for knowledge. Nearly all were most favorably impressed by him.
Didnt you tell them, sir, what hed been like when you met him at the orphanage? asked Harry.
No, I did not. Though he had shown no hint of remorse, it was possible that he felt sorry for how he had behaved before and was resolved to turn over a fresh leaf. I chose to give him that chance.
Dumbledore paused and looked inquiringly at Harry, who had opened his mouth to speak. Here, again, was Dumbledores tendency to trust people in spite of overwhelming evidence that they did not deserve it! But then Harry remembered something...
But you didnt really trust him, sir, did you? He told me...the Riddle who came out of that diary said, Dumbledore never seemed to like me as much as the other teachers did.
Let us say that I did not take it for granted that he was trustworthy, said Dumbledore. I had, as I have already indicated, resolved to keep a close eye upon him, and so I did.
-HBP, pp. 360-361
Contrast this with Dumbledores treatment of Snape. Even after Riddle proved his unworthiness, and even knowing that Snape was an Occlumens capable of fooling Voldemort himself, Dumbledore never expressed less than full confidence in Snapes loyalty:
But hes a very good Occlumens, isnt he, sir? said Harry, whose voice was shaking with the effort of keeping it steady. And isnt Voldemort convinced that Snapes on his side, even now? Professor...how can you be sure Snapes 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, pg. 549
Though Dumbledore himself admits his fallibility, I find it unlikely that Dumbledore was that far wrong about this particular thing. The possibility that Snape is lying is not something Dumbledore overlooked, nor is Dumbledores optimism overcoming his common sense.
No Excuse for Murder
But the most powerful argument against Snapes being on Dumbledores side, I think, is the simplest: Nobody on Dumbledores side -- on the good side -- would murder someone, not even under (hypothetical) orders.
Ignoring for the moment that we know for a fact that Dumbledore ordered Harry to poison him, and Harry complied (without apparent injury to Harrys goodness -- the distinction between possible death from what was likely but uncertain to be poison and direct killing via the Killing Curse is a fine, but important one), I must ask: What if Snape did not kill Dumbledore?
Im not sure that this is the case -- here Im deepest in the wild guesswork thickets -- and Im not arguing that Dumbledore is alive. But I did notice a couple of important points leading up to Dumbledores death that lead me to question whether it was Snape that killed him.
Point One: Just a couple of pages before the murder, and seemingly out of nowhere, we are suddenly introduced to the concept that the Order is prepared to fake someones death:
[Voldemort] cannot kill you if you are already dead. Come over to the right side, Draco, and we can hide you more completely than you can possibly imagine."
-HBP, pp. 591-592
Where did this come from? It certainly must be a new trick, since this technique wasnt used to protect Harrys parents. Weve seen only one example of a faked death (Wormtails), and that was a rather unique occurrence, not suitable for use by Draco and both his parents (as Dumbledore further promises). Again, I am not saying that Dumbledore is alive, just that the cause of his death may have been faked, and why else would the author bring up the mechanism for a faked death so soon before Dumbledores if it werent somehow connected?
Point Two: A running theme through HBP has been nonverbal spells, an item barely mentioned before this book. Further, it is a particular point of Snapes in his DADA lessons. We are reminded of these silent spells shortly before Dumbledores death, when he wordlessly immobilized Harry, and shortly after when Snape deftly -- and, unlike any other Death Eater, without uttering a single spell -- duels with Harry.
While this possibility is never explicitly stated in the book, it is not too great a leap to imagine performing a nonverbal spell while speaking the words of a different spell. In other words, Snape could have been saying "Avada Kedavra!" while in fact performing a different spell entirely. The sound and appearance of a genuine Killing Curse would, of course, be a necessary ingredient in this means of faking death, but one would assume that such a ruse was not beyond the powers of the Half-Blood Prince, who managed to come up with Levicorpus and Sectumsempra while still in school. Meanwhile, Dumbledore does indeed die, but from Voldemorts potion, not because Snape killed him.
As pointed out above, this is hardly rock-solid proof of Snapes loyalty to Dumbledore. However, I think it adequately allows for the possibility. Thus, while Im fairly sure that Snape isnt loyal to Voldemort, where his true loyalties lie will remain a mystery...at least until Book 7.
Posted by: Sara