Professor Snape As Animagus
by Louise Fecher
Although The Goblet of Fire is a series highlight for many of J.K. Rowling’s fans, it was my least favorite of the Harry Potter books. Early on in the series, I was bitten by the Snape bug, and I was furious with the author for barely including him in GoF. “Why waste such a great character?” I thought with frustration as I read the book. Why not include him in the action until page 175? That’s 174 Snape-less pages: a travesty! And why have him act so ridiculously when he does appear (such as stalling Harry when he is desperate to communicate with Dumbledore in “The Madness of Mr. Crouch” chapter; pages 557-558). Why not even include a mention of Snape at the final task in the Triwizard Tournament, when so many characters are accounted for at this time?
Many of my questions were answered in an insightful essay by Cindy Eric-“Uncovering Severus Snape: Patterns and Subtle Repetition” — that I read on MuggleNet a few months ago. I won’t repeat all of Cindy’s theories here – if you are a Snape fan (and even if you are not), reading her essay is a must. But since her essay sent me on a quest of my own, I need to recap a few of her theories.
First, Cindy argues that Professor Snape is actually in several key scenes in GoF, but that he is hidden. She make the case that he is present early in the novel – that he is one of the rampaging, Muggle-levitating Death Eaters at the Quidditch World Cup – and again at the end of the novel – as one of the groveling Voldemort supporters in the graveyard scene. Cindy also reinterprets – and thus clarifies – the above-mentioned scene in “The Madness of Mr. Crouch,” in which Harry seems to be thwarted by Snape, pointing out that Snape is subtly helping Harry to reach Dumbledore.
A Blast From the Past
After reading Cindy’s essay, I reread GoF – er, well, the scenes with Snape anyway – to relish the text with this new insight. I was astounded at the clever way in which Ms. Rowling shrouds Snape from the reader, yet provides clues to his presence. Here is one example (from the Death Eater scene at the beginning of the book) not included in Cindy’s essay:
“More wizards were joining the marching group, laughing and pointing up at the floating bodies. Tents crumpled and fell as the marching crowd swelled. Once or twice Harry saw one of the marchers blast a tent out of his way with his wand. Several caught fire. The screaming grew louder.”
– pp. 119-120, GoF
Rereading this text, I immediately connected it to another famous “blasting” scene, this time a humorous one from “The Yule Ball” chapter:
“Snape and Karkaroff came around the corner. Snape had his wand out and was blasting rosebushes apart, his expression most ill-natured. Squeals issued from many of the bushes, and dark shapes emerged from them.”
– p. 426, GoF
I believe that our beloved Potions Master is definitely the blaster noticed by Harry, but not named, at the Quidditch World Cup. So, assuming that Snape is actually present in both Death Eater scenes, we now have more Snape appearances in the book, even if he is “cloaked.” But one scene still nagged at me: the Third Task.
The Sphinx’s Riddle
At a key point in The Goblet of Fire – the final task of the Triwizard Tournament – J.K. Rowling seems to have forgotten Professor Snape; his whereabouts during this period are unaccounted for. Here’s how the action begins at the Quidditch field:
“Five minutes later, the stands had begun to fill; the air was full of excited voices and the rumbling of feet as the hundreds of students filed into their seats. . . .Hagrid, Professor Moody, Professor McGonagall, and Professor Flitwick came walking into the stadium and approached Bagman and his champions. They were wearing large red luminous stars on their hats, all except Hagrid, who had his on the back of his moleskin vest.‘We are going to be patrolling the outside of the maze,’ said Professor McGonagall to the champions. ‘If you get into difficulty, and wish to be rescued, send red sparks into the air, and one of us will come and get you, do you understand?'”
– p. 620, GoF
Incurable Snape fan that I am, I was infuriated by this passage when I first read it. Here, it seemed, was a key opportunity to give our Potions Master more literary screen time. As head of Slytherin and one of Dumbledore’s key aids, why is Snape not patrolling the maze? Hagrid, Moody, McGonagall and . . . FLITWICK? Tiny professor Flitwick? Never before have we seen the charming Charms professor in a protective role. To me, it seemed a gross oversight on the part of the author to include Flitwick here and not Snape.
But now I believe that the author deliberately did not include Snape here, because she placed him somewhere else. Somewhere were he could keep a watchful and protective eye – or I should say, eyes – on the champions. Let’s fast-forward to the Sphinx’s riddle:
“First think of the person who lives in disguise, Who deals in secrets and tells naught but lies.”
– p. 629, GoF
The answer to this part of the riddle, as unraveled by Harry, is a “spy.” Now, in re-reading this book, these lines took on a new meaning, hitting me like a stunning spell. Who is the spy as described by the Sphinx’s words? Snape, of course. When we read GoF for the first time, we do not associate Snape with spying at this point in the book. His role as a spy is only suggested at the end of the novel, and then confirmed in The Order of the Phoenix. But upon rereading, with the knowledge of Snape’s spy role in the Order, the sphinx’s riddle – and thus the spider reference – has new meaning.
Harry’s solution to the riddle continues:
“Spy . . . er . . . spy . . . er. . .” said Harry, pacing up and down. “A creature I wouldn’t want to kiss . . . a spider!”
– p. 630, GoF
Harry figures out the riddle, and realizes that a spider is about to attack. But what he doesn’t realize is what I now believe: that the spider in the maze is Professor Snape, in his Animagus form. It is Spider/Snape who bears down on Cedric and Harry. He is challenging the champions in his spider form, yet he is protecting them too. His presence ensures that the champions are being watched over, and guarantees that the participants will not be seriously injured by a berserk magical spider that cannot be controlled. (Remember Dumbledore’s comment about the Tournament early in the novel: “We have worked hard over the summer to ensure that this time, no champion will find himself or herself in mortal danger” 187, GoF.)
The play of the word “spy-der” is not the only clue to Snape’s eight-legged alter ego. There are several references to spiders in passages about Professor Snape in J.K. Rowling’s prose. What is interesting, though, is that most appear in The Order of the Phoenix. So only when we look back at The Goblet of Fire after reading the fifth book will all the clues click – like a spider’s pincers – into place.
Itsy Bitsy Spider Clues
I found only one spider reference to Snape in GoF, and it occurs in a passage that I always felt disturbing (and therefore always remembered) because of the venom that Harry has for Snape at this point in the story. It occurs well after Harry has seen the fake Moody demonstrate the Unforgivable Curses on a spider, and right after Snape’s famous, cruel remark about Hermione’s teeth (“I see no difference.”):
“Harry sat there staring at Snape as the lesson began, picturing horrific things happening to him . . . If only he knew how to do the Cruciatus Curse . . . he’d have Snape flat on his back like that spider, jerking and twitching. . . .”
– p. 300, GoF
There are two spider/Snape references in OotP. Both occur in the pensieve/flashback scene in the “Snape’s Worst Memory” chapter:
“Harry looked around and glimpsed Snape a short way away, moving between the tables toward the doors into the entrance hall, still absorbed in his own examination paper. Round-shouldered yet angular, he walked in a twitchy manner that recalled a spider, his oily hair swinging around his face.”
– p. 643, OotP“A hand had closed tight over his upper arm, closed with a pincerlike grip. Wincing, Harry looked around to see who had hold of him, and saw, with a thrill of horror, a fully grown, adult-sized Snape standing right bedside him, white with rage.”
– p. 649, OotP
I remember being startled when I first read this description of Snape’s grip. Either Snape’s fingers must be abnormally long, I thought, or Harry’s upper arm unusually skinny. For this reason the passage stood out in my mind, and I thought of it immediately when I reread GoF and the Sphinx’s riddle.
Other textual references to Snape suggest a creepy-crawly feeling. There’s his handwriting, for one: he marks Harry’s homework with “a large, spiky black D” in OotP (309). His predatory gait is another: Harry recognizes the Potions Master’s “prowling walk” in PS/SS (225). Snape is always associated with coldness – his voice, his dungeon classroom, his chilly office.
And if I had a Galleon for every time we read about his cold black eyes – which sometimes “glitter strangely” (713, GoF), I’d have a hefty account at Gringotts. These references to Snape’s eyes are a familiar descriptive mantra for the character, much like his “curtains of greasy black hair.”
Now let’s take a look at that spider in The Goblet of Fire:
“Then Harry saw something immense over a hedge to his left, moving quickly along a path that intersected with his own; it was moving so fast Cedric was about to run into it, and Cedric, his eyes on the cup, had not seen it-
‘Cedric!’ Harry bellowed. ‘On your left!’
Cedric looked around just in time to hurl himself past the thing and avoid colliding with it, but in his haste, he tripped. Harry saw Cedric’s wand fly out of his had as a gigantic spider stepped into the path and began to bear down upon Cedric.
‘Stupefy!’ Harry yelled; the spell hit the spider’s gigantic, hairy black body, but for all the good it did, he might as well have thrown a stone at it; the spider jerked, scuttled around, and ran at Harry instead.
‘Stupefy! Impedimenta! Stupefy!’
But it was no use-the spider was either so large, or so magical, that the spells were doing no more than aggravating it. Harry had one horrifying glimpse of eight shining black eyes and razor-sharp pincers before it was upon him.”
– p. 631, GoF
Shining black eyes, pincers, speedy and aggressive movement, and anger at the students when they don’t perform as expected: sounds like Snape to me! There is also a parallel here between Snape getting knocked out by the combination of three spells uttered simultaneously by Harry, Ron, and Hermione in The Prisoner of Azkaban and the way the spider is defeated in The Goblet of Fire: Cedric and Harry simultaneously use the Stupefy Spell, knocking the spider out.
Snape as an Animagus rings true to me for many reasons, in addition to the above-cited clues. A creepy alter ego dovetails perfectly with Professor Snape’s interest and proficiency in the Dark Arts, as well as with the sinister mannerisms that J.K. Rowling has created for him. Also, it creates an interesting parallel with Snape and his schooldays enemies, the Marauders, who are (with the exception of Lupin) also Animagi.
We learn in The Prisoner of Azkaban that it is difficult to become an Animagus (“Animagus transformation can go horribly wrong,” Lupin says. ), but we also know that when Severus Snape arrived as a youngster at Hogwarts, he already “knew more curses . . . than half the kids in seventh year” (Sirius speaking, p. 531, GoF).
Clearly, young Severus was tutored in the Dark Arts while he was a child. I suspect that his evil mentor – his father (the hooked-nose man in the pensieve, perhaps?) – helped him to adopt the spider form (probably illegally, i.e., not registering him with the Ministry). Having the ability to change into a dark creature would likely appeal to a Dark Wizard-in-training like young Severus. Perhaps the twitchy, spider-like walk that Harry sees in the pensieve indicates that at this point, Severus has learned to transform.
I also wonder if, as an Animagus, young Severus suspected Animagus activity on the part of the Marauders: perhaps this is one reason why he often followed the Marauders at school. Maybe, instead of trying to get James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter expelled, Severus was trying to find out if his suspicions were true.
Many Harry Potter fans believe that the Potions Master is a vampire, and there are certainly many clues that suggest this, which is why the vampire debate continues. One reason I don’t care for this theory is that it doesn’t seem to have potential to add much to the storyline. Does Snape simply reveal his fangs in Book 7 in a big “Bwaaahaaa” scene? That would be no big deal: we already know that Snape has bad teeth. What’s more, what can Snape do as a vampire that would be a great asset to the Order?
As a powerful magical spider, Snape can physically protect the children. I can see him now, at a critical point in Book 7, jumping in front of the kids a la Alan Rickman in The Prisoner of Azkaban, but instead of flinging out his long arms to protect them, he flings out his, er, eight hairy legs. . . . I see another potential role for SpideySnape. We all know the famous tease at the end of GoF, when Dumbledore asks Snape to take on a dangerous duty:
“Severus,” said Dumbledore, turning to Snape, “you know what I must ask you to do. If you are ready . . . if you are prepared . . . “
– p. 713, GoF
When Snape is revealed as a spy for the Order at the beginning of Book 5, we assume we have figured out Dumbledore’s request. But, just maybe, Dumbledore is asking Snape to do something else. Perhaps Snape has already resumed his spy role, at Dumbledore’s request – which is why he is present at the Death Eater gatherings in GoF. So, what is the Headmaster asking Snape to do?
No doubt, in the final conflict of the Harry Potter series, many magical creatures will participate in the battle between good and evil. The dementors will certainly become allies with Voldemort and his Death Eaters; the elves, with Dumbledore and his followers. One of Hagrid’s tasks for the Order is to gain support from the giants. Perhaps Snape’s task, then, is to recruit a spider army: namely, Aragog and his foul family of eight-legged freaks. I can see it now: a battle is raging, the Good Guys are faltering, then, appearing on the horizon – like Eomer and his contingent of Riders of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – a band of angry spiders comes to help the heroes, clicking their pincers and led by the same spider from the Final Task, finally revealed as Professor Snape.
Kiss a Spider, Find Your Prince?
Some of you may be thinking that even if the spider in The Goblet of Fire is Snape, he wounds Harry by biting him, and is thereby proved evil. But the spider actually does not bite Harry, even though we are left with that impression. Harry is wounded when he kicks the spider in the mouth:
“He was lifted into the air in its front legs; struggling madly, he tried to kick it; his leg connected with the pincers and next moment he was in excruciating pain.”
– pp. 631-632, GoF
What’s more, the spider’s pincers leave a “thick gluey secretion” (632) on Harry’s robes. J.K. Rowling never explains the significance of this sticky stuff, yet since she mentions it, it may be important. I wonder if the secretion has a healing quality to it – ensuring that if a champion is injured by contact with the pincers, that the wound will be protected.
The last line of the sphinx’s riddle takes a jab out our magical spider:
“Now string them together, and answer me this, Which creature would you be unwilling to kiss?”
p. 629, GoF
If the spider is Snape, this line may be Ms. Rowling’s way of teasing Snape’s many faithful female fans (who, like me, refuse to see him as a villain, no matter what the author intends for him!). It also recalls the infamous “Florence” kissing reference in GoF, in the scene where Dumbledore’s pensieve reveals a young Bertha Jorkins complaining to the Headmaster:
“‘He put a hex on me, Professor Dumbledore, and I was only teasing him, sir, I only said I’d seen him kissing Florence behind the greenhouses last Thursday . . . .'”
– p. 598-599, GoF
Some fans have theorized that this passage has importance and relevance to the plot, and that the unnamed boy kissing “Florence” – whoever she is – is a young Severus Snape. I like this theory, but I’m a romantic . . . especially when it comes to Snape.
While I admit that kissing Professor Snape in his spider form has little appeal, I find that the idea of him as an Animagus adds to his intrigue and his allure. I adore this extraordinary character more than ever, for his secrets, his angst, and his inherent bravery. Never mind the hairy legs – waxing is always an option – I believe that Snape will be remembered as hero in this story, pincers and all.