The Silver Doe and the Eye of Snape
An original editorial by Daniela Teo
Saying good-bye to Snape, as to many other characters who died in Deathly Hallows
, was so abrupt it left a void. Perhaps Rowling, who if she could have changed something in her own life, would have kept her mother longer on the phone on their last conversation, felt how short and incomplete such partings can be, and expressed it with nearly every death in the Harry Potter
After losing someone, even a fictional character, it feels comforting to go back and see details that we overlooked before, as if seeing them live a little longer in the past prolongs their future. Rowling gave us The Princes Tale for Snape, a feast of memory secrets to make up for his summary execution. But after finishing the book, I still felt Snape was gone too quickly, and I dug back into previous chapters for a bit of closure. Rereading the chapter The Silver Doe was a bit like diving into one of Snapes memories, but with the magic ability to walk around the whole scene, as in a Pensieve. It added a few moments to Snapes life to imagine things not just from Harrys perspective but also Snapes, and ask, What did Snape see when he sent his Patronus to Harry? What did he feel while watching him? What did he think?
When Harry saw the silver doe, He jumped to his feet, his voice frozen in his throat, and raised Hermiones wand (DH 365). Snape saw Harrys fear, but also something more, a feeling that he could identify with: Harry stared at the creature, filled with wonder, not at her strangeness, but at her inexplicable familiarity (DH 366). As Harry recognized an object of love, so did Snape.
As is often the case in Harry Potter, there are correspondences between scenes that make the book look like a network of echoes. How many of them are intentional only the author knows, but they give a sense of wonderful depth to the book. Harrys familiarity with the beautiful Patronus is reminiscent of his familiarity with the name printed on Voldemorts Horcrux: And while Harry was sure he had never heard the name T. M. Riddle before, it still seemed to mean something to him, almost as though Riddle was a friend hed had when he was very small, and had half-forgotten (CoS 234). Compare this feeling with Harrys feelings for Snapes doe, her inexplicable familiarity: He felt that he had been waiting for her to come, but that he had forgotten, until this moment, that they had arranged to meet (DH 366).
The impression Harry had of Tom Riddles name, that he was a friend he had when he was very young, seems to say something about the relationship between Snape and Lily, who were childhood friends, as well as between Harry and Lily, who were together only during Harrys first year of life. If we sensed the echo with the Chamber of Secrets, we might have wondered at this point if the source of the Patronus was trustworthy. Harrys instinct was that this was no Dark Magic. In the case of Riddles name, Harry had a sense of recognition because a piece of Voldemorts soul was lodged in his scar. We learn from the diary that the soul also houses memories. In a different way the episode of the silver doe also involves a Horcrux, but this time the doe is a guide to the weapon to destroy it. Interestingly, the Horcrux is again on Harrys person, since he is wearing it. Harry senses someones soul, his mothers (with maybe a touch of Snapes love for her). The echo between Harrys sense of wondrous recognition and his reaction to the name of Tom Riddle because of the piece of soul that is inside his scar seems to suggest that the Patronus also involves the soul.
We know that Harrys Patronus is a stag, his fathers Animagus shape, and Patronuses in general in Harry Potter seem to be projections of the soul. Dumbledore told Harry that those we love never leave us, and that Harrys father was inside Harry, showing himself through his Patronus. That means that an image of Lilys soul, a bit like an imprint that is a ghost in Potterverse, is inside Snape, and when he produced his Patronus, Harry actually sensed the presence of his mother, in a powerful way, because he actually saw a projection of her soul, a most faithful recording of it.
A clue to the feelings Snape may have had upon sending his Patronus towards Harry is Harrys sensation that he had been waiting for her to come, but that he had forgotten, until this moment, that they had arranged to meet (DH 366). There were many meetings that took place in that encounter between Harry and the silver doe, and in that sensation of Harrys we feel Snapes own soul leaning in for the same meeting. Harry met his mother through the silver doe, and Snape must have been aware of that aspect of the encounter, since he had learned finally to see Harry as Lilys son. And for that reason, knowing that Harry instinctively recognized Lily and longed for her, Snape must have felt a revival of his own pain and longing mirrored in Harrys feelings. Snape met Lily again more intensely this time than others when he produced his Patronus. Having the silver doe be recognized as Lily by her son must have added more substance to the ethereal figure of the Patronus, must have made Lilys soul feel more present. By watching Harry watch the silver doe, in a way the spying Snape was watching Lily as he never could again, as if she had truly materialized in front of Harry. He may have also remembered the way he had spied on her as a child from behind a clump of bushes, since it is somewhat similar to the way he is spying now from behind the trees on the meeting of her Patronus with her son.
On the other hand, by sending the silver doe to the producer of the stag Patronus, the boy who looks just like his father, Snape also sent Lily back to James, and the doe to its true half. It must have been the last thing Snape wanted to do, to show his image of Lily to the image of James, and old possessive memories must have risen up in him as well. But to temper that idea, there was also the reality of a meeting soul-to-soul between Harry and Snape. This meeting had started much earlier, during Occlumency lessons, when student and teacher had glimpses of each others most private and painful memories. In the forest, upon sending the silver doe Patronus, Snape realized he was baring his heart to Harry, even though he stayed well hidden. The communication between the two souls would be complete near the end of Deathly Hallows when Harry dived into the Pensieve to see the last memories Snape shared with him.
I wonder, when Snape had the idea to communicate with Harry using his Patronus, was it more than a clever way to gain his trust without revealing himself? Was it also a subconscious, almost exhibitionist need to show Harry a part of his heart, maybe because he was actually beginning to care for him? Of course, it could also have been a sadistic pleasure to show Harry the doe, and make him long for it, only to remove it from his presence, and feel in full control of it.
Snape saw that Harry was open and trusting towards that part of his soul that he sent in the shape of a Patronus. Though it was an image of Lilys soul that Harry saw, it was also a projection of Snapes love for Lily. And the way they stared at each other is reminiscent of the way Harry and Snape looked at each other for a second right before Snape died, disappearing from life like his Patronus that dematerialized: "They gazed at each other for several long moments and then she turned and walked away. No, he said, and his voice was cracked with lack of use. Come back! (DH 366) Snape could understand the feelings that would produce such a No and Come back! in Harry, because he shared them. Perhaps for the first time, even against his nature, Snape empathized with Harry, because he lost the same object that Harry missed, Lily, and wanted her back. This experience of understanding Harry, the one person he had never wished to understand, could have opened Snape towards being more caring towards other humans in the future.
But then the meeting was over, though Snape watched Harry run after his Patronus wanting to talk to it, to ask it a burning question. Snape still didnt care about Harry back when he showed Dumbledore his Patronus. Is it possible that he cared a little at least now, as he watched the boy seek his mother, the woman he also missed? Is it possible even that he already cared about the boy when he was talking to Dumbledore, even though he refused to admit it? Seeing Snapes better nature beyond his love for Lily and his wish for revenge may be wishful thinking...
I think it is interesting to delimit how long Snape stayed on the scene, watching Harry. Logically, he would have stayed until he was sure that Harry retrieved the sword safely, so that he could report it to Dumbledore. And there are markers in the text that give us a sense that that is exactly how long he stayed. We sense his presence every time Harry seeks him out, and we also sense his absolute departure when Harry feels that [t]he silver doe was nothing, nothing compared to Rons reappearance [. . .] (DH 371). The repeated nothing functions as an authorial incantation for Snapes exit. As Harry loses interest in everything other than Ron, we feel Snapes sad departure.
Before that moment, Rowling hints at Snapes watching eyes through Harrys repeated sensation of his presence: Was he imagining that someone stood beyond the reach of the wandlight, watching him? (DH 367) After Harry is led by the doe to the pool and he sees Gryffindors sword gleaming at the bottom, he looks once more towards the trees for his silent watcher: Again, he directed the wand at the surrounding trees and bushes, searching for a human outline, for the glint of an eye, but he could not see anyone there (DH 368). Harrys inability to see anyone there is not enough to eliminate Snapes presence, as is his later indifference when he thinks that the doe is nothing, nothing compared to Ron. We simply feel Harrys limited field of vision, and someone standing just outside it, in the dark. Snape is still watching Harry. And again, when Harry realizes that he must plunge in the pool, he looks for his spy: He glanced around at the surrounding trees again, but was convinced now that nobody was going to attack him. They had had their chance as he walked alone through the forest, had had plenty of opportunity as he examined the pool (DH 369). Harrys description of his watcher now implies that Snape is present, has been all along, but is not going to attack, only watch.
The fact that Harry is constantly looking for the source of the silver doe is a detail that makes the scene credible given the curious circumstances, but at the same time it serves to sketch Snapes presence on the contours of Harrys imagination. Rowlings insistence on Harrys gaze towards his watcher draws our attention to the same watcher, and to Snapes gaze.
Snape watched Harry seek him out every time Harry looked towards the trees for the source of the Patronus. He saw Harry discover the pool of water, and try to Accio the sword. I am not sure if he heard Harry murmur Help! since Rowling says that Harry murmured, suggesting that Snape was too far to hear. What must have gone through Snapes mind at each of these trials is hard to say. It could have been scorn, knowing Snape. But maybe at this point he was also watching a Gryffindor in action, the ultimate Gryffindor. He may have been curious what the epitome of bravery looked like, his house being known for its cowardice. What conclusions he may have drawn, I dont know... Perhaps he was surprised.
Harry did finally decide to jump in. Snape saw him break the ice with the Diffindo spell, jump, and not come out. He may have heard the struggle going on underneath the water. What did Snape feel at that moment? Did he worry about harm coming to Harry because of the mission and because of Lily, or, after watching Harry so closely from his hidden spot, with his heart open because of the Patronus, did Snape feel any instinctive, protective, parental fear? Ron saved Snape in the nick of time from acting on his feelings. And at the same time, Ron provided him with an unexpected clue.
I think I know why Rowling had Snape ask Dumbledore this question right before going to the forest to give Harry the sword: And you still arent going to tell me why its so important to give Potter the sword? (DH 690) He must have found his answer in the forest.
Snape saw Harry wearing the locket when he took off his clothes. It may be that he did not recognize the Slytherin heirloom, that he did not see the S on it, being too far. I do wonder if he looked closely at the ring Dumbledore was wearing and knew what it was. However, Snape saw Harry struggle underwater when he was strangled by the chain, which had to be a puzzle, since the only hard part about Harrys task was making the decision to submerge himself in the freezing water. Beyond the horrible discomfort, it appears that wizards are made of stronger stuff than Muggles, and wouldnt have a hard attack in the ice-cold water. But Snape saw Ron save Harry, and deduced that the source of the trouble was the chain and locket, either because he saw Ron rip it off Harrys neck, or he saw Ron holding the ripped chain and heard him yell at Harry: Are -- you -- mental? and Why the hell [. . .] didnt you take this thing off before you dived? (DH 371) It was right after Rons revelation that Snape took off.
Rons angry upbraiding must have echoed loudly in Snapes ears, since he himself had similarly asked Dumbledore a year earlier Why [. . .] why did you put on that ring? (DH 680) The style with which the worried friends yelled at the one they had just saved is identical. And there is more than one correspondence between the two situations even to Snapes unknowing eyes. The sword is mysteriously present each time, and Snape knows that Dumbledore used the sword to break the ring. Might not the sword be used, in Snapes imagination, to destroy the locket that Harry was wearing as well? Snape told Dumbledore the ring carried a curse, but that is not what was worst about it. And Snape did not see the locket act dangerously when Harry was simply wearing it. The chain began to strangle him only when he dived for the sword. Thus, the danger of the locket was not a curse, but something else, something that may also have been in the ring...
Snape may have been left out of the Horcrux secret, but he could put two and two together. His knowledge of the Dark Arts makes it unlikely that he never heard of Horcruxes. But I think after all that happened, even if he had never heard of them, he might have gotten the idea of what they were. He had already seen that Dumbledore put himself in danger to acquire a ring whose value Snape did not understand. He then learned from Dumbledore that a piece of Voldemorts soul was inside Harry, and that Voldemort would not die until that piece of soul in Harry was destroyed. The way a Horcrux works was laid bare before Snapes eyes just with that example. He even understood from Dumbledore that murder rips ones soul and makes it unstable. Moreover, Voldemort would for some unfathomable reason keep Nagini closer to him at some point in time, when it would be important to tell Harry the truth so that Voldemort may kill him and thereby be destroyed. And here was Dumbeldore, hunting down a ring protected by a murderous curse, and here was Harry, wearing a murderous locket, and here was the sword, again the sword. The pieces of the puzzle were arranging themselves in Snapes mind, and the missing piece must have been witnessing the locket try to kill Harry when he dived for the sword, as if the object feared the thing that might destroy it. Then Snape had the visual cue of seeing both the locket and the sword held in Rons separate hands as if somehow linked. Finally, he heard Ron yell at Harry about the danger of the locket that both young men were obviously aware of.
Snape must have understood at that point that Voldemort had created Horcruxes, and many of them. He could have lingered on to be sure of his theory, to witness the destruction of the locket with the sword, but I dont believe he meant to spy in order to discover a secret Dumbledore was hiding from him. He left out of discretion, and because he didnt need to see it to believe it. He could now report to Dumbledore that Harry had the sword and was safe.
It is possible that Snapes sensation upon leaving the scene was horror at the reality of what Voldemort had done, and a realization of the burden that was on Harrys shoulders, on top of having to die. He may have thought that he could have done it better than Harry, but he may also have grown more humble in his judgment. He may even not have smirked at Harrys stupidity to wear the dangerous locket, since he had witnessed Dumbledore do the same stupid thing with the ring. And he may have realized that Harry put himself in danger so that the locket may not be lost. Snape may have felt frustration and fear seeing on what shoulders lay such a huge task, on these two mediocre students... At the same time, he may have been surprised at Rons presence of mind and leadership, and realized that Dumbledore had done well to trust these kids. And maybe the fact that Snape saw not just Harry, but also Ron, in a new light, is suggested by the fact that Ron almost saw Snape:
You didnt see anyone else?
No, said Ron. I
But he hesitated, glancing at two trees growing close together some yards away.
I did think I saw something move over there, but I was running to the pool at the time, because youd gone in and you hadnt come up, so I wasnt going to make a detour to [. . .]
One last time, Rowling draws our attention to the hidden spot beyond our field of vision where Snapes hidden gaze remains, with all its mystery, inviting us to guess at his observing thoughts and feelings.
Snapes lingering on after Harry jumped shows that he waited for the successful outcome of the adventure. The fact that Ron saw a movement suggests that Snape was on the point of leaving his hiding spot to go and see what happened to Harry and help him. But Snape must have stopped short upon seeing Ron arrive unexpectedly, and that created the brief movement that Ron noticed.
We understand from Harrys conversation with Ron that Ron got the sword that Harry must have dropped or almost dropped: Oh yeah, I got it out [. . .]. Thats why you jumped in, right? (DH 372) Ron saw Harry and the sword in the pool, dived in and took Harry out first (perhaps at the same time ripping the chain off Harrys neck) and then dived again to get the sword. Snape must have seen that it was Ron who in the end got out Gryffindors sword. Rons sensing Snapes presence suggests that Snape also noticed Ron as he probably never did before: as a hero. It must have been an eye-opening experience about underestimated sidekicks that was good for Snape to have.
I dont know when Snape started changing, if he did. He seemed to have changed when he told Phineas Nigellus not to call Hermione Mudblood (DH 689). Unfortunately, earlier on, in Harrys sixth year, Snape was still his own nasty self, even in matters that should have awoken a sense of empathy. Just as Snapes Patronus adopted the shape of a silver doe because it was the animal image of the one he loved (or her Patronus, as Harry says during his final duel with Voldemort), Tonks Patronus adopted a wolf shape because she desperately loved Lupin. But Snape made snide remarks about Tonks Patronus: And incidentally [. . .], I was interested to see your new Patronus. [. . .] I think you were better off with the old one. The new one looks weak (HBP 160). Rowling made the malice in his voice unmistakable. Instead of identifying with Tonks, Snape chose instead to deride. He must have seen Lily as more impressive a person to love than Lupin. This competitiveness makes his true love look calculating. And something that should have kept him silent about the merits of Tonks love as compared to his own is that Snape sacrificed his love to his ambition for power when he had the choice.
But Snapes love for Lily did give him the courage to stay in hell until the end, in order to be useful, even while being despised by those he helped. He was a tormented soul in Purgatory. Perhaps playing such a martyrs role in the end did work some miracle on Snapes soul. Maybe he did change in his final moments, though it was too late, for the memory of love. He still only cared to see Lilys eyes in Harrys at the end, but he cant be judged for his dying wish the last second of his life.
I may have projected more of a better part of Snape on the forest scene than he had or than Rowling intended, but I cant help rereading the chapter of The Silver Doe with a strong sense of the tension and the feelings of the character behind the trees.
Posted by: Sara