What is Snape doing for the Order of the Phoenix?

by Tammy Nezol

“Severus,” said Dumbledore, turning to Snape, “you know what I must ask you to do. If you are ready . . . If you are prepared . . .”
Book Four, pg 713, US Edition

Perhaps the greatest conundrum in the Harry Potter books is the character of Severus Snape. He is the mysterious potions master that was once a Death Eater but is now an Order member. Why is he trusted by Albus Dumbledore? Why did he leave Voldemort’s ranks? Why won’t the headmaster give him the Defense Against the Dark Arts job? All of these questions are only small pieces to solving the enigma that is Snape. Each question is a long article in and of itself. Today, the question I’m going to tackle could be the key to answering all of the questions above. What is Severus Snape doing for the Order? In book five, Rowling gives a number of hints that Snape is spying for the Order.

“That is just as well, Potter,”” said Snape coldly, “”because you are neither special nor important, and it is not up to you to find out what the Dark Lord is saying to his Death Eaters.”“”

“No — that’s your job, isn’t it?”“ Harry shot at him.

He had not meant to say it; it had burst out of him in temper. For a long moment they stared at each other, Harry convinced he had gone to far. But there was a curious, almost satisfied expression on Snape’s face when he answered. “

“Yes, Potter,”” he said, his eyes glinting. “”That is my job.”” Book Five, pg. 591

Yet, this idea is incomplete. If Snape is a spy, how has he found his way back into Voldemort’s confidence? Many websites have suggested the idea that Snape came to Voldemort begging forgiveness and asking to be allowed back into the ranks. This idea is hardly believable. After all, we can be about 85% sure that Voldemort swore Snape’s death in book four.

“And here we have six missing Death Eaters . . . Three dead in my service. One, too cowardly to return . . . He will pay. One, who I believe has left me forever . . . He will be killed, of course . . . And one, who remains my most faithful servant, and who has already reentered my service.”
Book Four, pg. 651

From this line we can gather that Karakaroff is the coward, Crouch Jr. is the faithful servant, and Snape is the one who has left forever. After all, Voldemort was on Quirrell’s head long enough to know where Snape’s loyalties lie. I put this only at an 85% possibility because while these pieces fit well, I would not put it beyond Rowling to use this quote to make us think we know something we don’t.

I highly doubt that Voldemort would bring Snape back under his wing after vowing his death. Voldemort’s power rests with making the other Death Eaters fear him. He instills this fear by letting them know what will happen to those who cross his path. Even if Snape comes back begging forgiveness or carrying valuable information, Voldemort has to kill him. To not kill Snape is to lower the amount of power he has over his Death Eaters. To not kill Snape would be a sign of weakness. Voldemort has to do what he has sworn to do in order to preserve his power. Also, the fact that Snape did not show up for the first call of Death Eaters would also make it more difficult for him to rejoin the pack.

The fact that Snape cannot go to Voldemort as himself does not necessarily defeat the idea of Snape spying. A number of sites have suggested that Snape took the polyjuice potion to become Crouch Jr. We do know that Snape is accomplished at Legilimency and Occlumency.

“Only those skilled at Occlumency are able to shut down those feelings and memories that contradict the lie, and so utter falsehoods in his presence without detection.”
Book Five, pg. 531

Using Occlumency, it is possible for Snape to pretend to be Crouch and Voldemort to not be any the wiser. However, Snape would have to know Crouch Jr. well enough to mimic his actions precisely or Voldemort would become suspicious. In fact, the events at the Ministry were no doubt made public enough that Voldemort’s spies would know the truth about Crouch Jr.’s death. Also, Dumbledore gave the orders to Snape as if Snape already knew what to do and had been waiting for it for a long while. His response was of a person who knew this was coming eventually, and the day had finally come when he would have to face it. As the death of Crouch Jr. only occurred the night the order was given, it is unlikely that Snape and Dumbledore would have been preparing this particular plan.

Therefore, I do not believe that Snape is taking on the likeness of Crouch Jr. He might be able to pretend to be someone else, but who could he pretend to be that would gain Voldemort’s trust quickly? I believe the answer to how Snape is spying is much deeper than a prodigal son type return or a potion.

In fact, what I think Snape is doing might not be considered spying at all. It’s more of an intelligence job, that is to say he processes and reports information. The one doing the real spying is Lucius Malfoy or some other Death Eater. Sounds crazy? Please, take a few minutes to hear me out.

Voldemort wants absolute power, right? He gets this power by convincing others to follow him, and then uses those people to destroy anything that gets in his way. He rules with an iron fist. Voldemort demands that his Death Eaters prostrate themselves before him. Voldemort demands unwavering loyalty. Most of all, Voldemort demands that he alone be the Dark Lord, the omni-powerful leader. Yet, he gains most of his followers by promising them power. He gains followers by touching on their bigotry and greed. In short, those that follow Voldemort end up in a trap. They are promised power, but in the end they must always submit to Voldemort’s will. They are promised power, but in the end they are prostrating themselves and groveling at an evil wizards feet. The Death Eaters are punished severely when they make a mistake. As Greg said on the Harry Potter Prognostications site, under Voldemort a Death Eater can only go so far. Under Voldemort they are no more than trapped and humiliated.

Those such as Lucius Malfoy are not likely to appreciate groveling. They do not appreciate having limited power. In fact, they probably never wanted Voldemort to return in the first place. I’m not saying all the Death Eaters fall in this category, but a significant number of them probably do.

Think about it. Why didn’t the Death Eaters seek out Voldemort after his fall? Why did they not try to bring him back to power? I think that Greg at Harry Potter Prognostications is right. They had gone as far as they could with Voldemort and had become trapped. They didn’t want him to rise again; they were better off with him powerless.

“My lord, I was constantly on the alert,” came Lucius Malfoy’s voice swiftly from beneath the hood. “Had there been any sign from you, any whisper of your whereabouts, I would have been at your side immediately, nothing could have prevented me –”“And yet you ran from my Mark, when a faithful Death Eater sent it into the sky last summer?” said Voldemort lazily, and Mr. Malfoy stopped talking abruptly. “Yes, I know all about that, Lucius . . . You have disappointed me . . . I expect more faithful service in the future.”
Book Four, pg. 650

If we accept that some of the Death Eaters are not thrilled to have Voldemort back, this makes the conundrum a little easier to understand. Remember, Snape is a good friend of Lucius. Snape still talks to Lucius, which is interesting as Lucius is Voldemort’s servant and Voldemort has sworn Snape’s death. Snape knows Lucius and the other Death Eaters better than other Order members do because he has been around them. He has worked with them and kept up contacts even after Voldemort’s death and after his reason was revealed. Therefore, it is not too much of a leap to say that Snape knows of their malcontent. He knows which Death Eaters may not appreciate the current situation. By knowing this, he knows how to use one of Voldemort’s greatest weapons against Voldemort himself.

“I say to you all once again — in the light of Lord Voldemort’s return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust.”
Book Four, pg. 723

This passage is a large key to the series. In order to survive, there must be unity. The same is true for Voldemort’s side. He must have unity and loyalty to keep his power. Division among his own ranks will only weaken his power.

With this in mind, Snape’s job is clear. Snape must spread as much enmity as he can in Voldemort’s ranks, in order to lower his power. Death Eaters such as Lucius Malfoy are so hungry for power that I believe they will risk deceiving Voldemort in order to gain more. Snape knows this. He starts to talk to them, he’s probably been talking to them long before Voldemort ever came back. Snape will know what to say to them to get the Death Eaters to turn against Voldemort. It is the Death Eaters that must use Occlumency against Voldemort in order to hide their deceit. Meanwhile, the Death Eaters furnish Snape with information on what Voldemort is telling them. Therefore, what Snape told Harry is not a lie. It was just not the whole truth.

This does leave a blank or two still open. Would Dumbledore be willing to work with such people as Lucius, knowing that one of them could take Voldemort’s place later? Why was Snape frightened at the prospect of doing this? Why did he have to leave immediately to handle the situation? Is it because he continues to fear Voldemort? Clearly Snape does; he still will not say Voldemort’s name. Second, why does he continue to call him the Dark Lord? Is it a force of habit or something more? It is clear that we do not yet have the full picture of what Snape is doing, only a partial picture. At least a partial picture is something. Snape could be doing everything I said, plus more. He may be working with Vampires or other creatures to learn more of Voldemort’s plans. He may be trying to gain more creatures to work on the side of light. There are literally many possibilities. I could be wrong, and Snape could be spying directly. This would explain his fear, but then what of the problems I listed earlier? It will be interesting to see what directions Rowling does take this. Whatever direction it is, clearly Snape will have to be careful and watch his back.

It is mysteries such as those that, in my opinion, make these books great. We are left holding on to threads of information about well developed characters. Rowling plays us along with many twists and turns, and in the end the possibilities seem endless. She does a great job of making us think we know what is going on, when often we don’t. Snape is a wonderful character because he is an enigma, and I look forward to watching this character’s future unravel.

Just a quick note. I don’t think Lucius is going to be on the good side. If he is supplying information to Snape it is only to overthrow Voldemort. He won’t help in the battles or become good at any point. To be honest, I don’t even think this theory is correct! The main point of this article is really that none of us really know what’s going on except Rowling! I guess that just makes the books at the more interesting! (If you would like to contact me, visit my site at tazmy.blogspot.com