The Underground Lake #4: The Lost Day, Part 4 – Why Does Dumbledore Trust Snape?

by Brandon

These last two installments will handle the “JFK Conspiracy theories” I mentioned earlier. The first is a question that has been explored – almost – in one form or another, and it deals our favorite potions master, Snape (Dumbledore has just informed me that it isProfessor Snape.) Why in the world does Dumbledore trust him? And why in the world should we trust him?

Our introduction to Snape is that of a greasy, long-nosed professor with a severe inferiority complex and an unknown grudge against Harry. We later discover between PS/SS, PoA and OotP that Snape had a toxic relationship with James and Sirius. We further discover that Sirius played a cruel joke on Snape by sending him to a freshly transformed Lupin, who at the time was looking for a nice piece of flesh to rip asunder. James, realizing he’d be in deep trouble, saved Snape, thus Snape now has the biggest ‘I-owe-you-one’ that someone can. Since James died, Snape was never able to return the ‘favor.’ Enter Harry, who looks EXACTLY like James (I know except – for his eyes), and who also has a brilliant talent for getting into trouble. Time and time again, Snape has found himself saving Harry, thus retroactively returning James’ favor.

But this whole dynamic still doesn’t answer the question: why does Dumbledore trust Snape? The first time it’s mentioned is in Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone. The subject is broached and the readers get the first of many instances where Harry calls Snape “Snape” instead of “Professor Snape.” This happens on several occasions in the books until we get to Goblet of Fire. During Harry and Dumbledore’s conversation about the Pensieve, Harry asks point-blank, “What makes you think [Snape had] really stopped supporting Voldemort?” To which Dumbledore replies, “That, Harry, is a matter between Professor Snape and myself.” WHAT?! You realize, of course, that in the many meetings and conversations between Harry and Dumbledore, this is only the SECOND time that Dumbledore has not answered a direct question from Harry (the first time, of course, being the biggie in the Book One that is answered in great length in Book Five).

Dumbledore is notorious for picking and choosing when he divulges information to Harry, but IT IS ALWAYS DIVULGED. He and Harry have always had the kind of relationship in which Dumbledore is honest and forthcoming. We know the first big secret, the one which led to Sirius’ downfall, was kept from Harry because he was too young and had been through too much at the time to be able to process it, an action Dumbledore later admits was a mistake and could have undone the entire climax of OotP. So why is this one SO huge? Even in OotP we still don’t know the whole story. But we can speculate.

Why Snape Hates Harry

The easy answer is that Harry looks like James, and every class period is a constant reminder of the torture that school was for Snape. That’s way too convenient and superficial a reason. Upon exploration, we realize that Snape loathes Harry because every time he is close to expelling Harry or make Harry look like a fool (the end of PoA and GoF), Harry manages to escape unscathed and unpunished. Harry even manages to make Snape look like an imbecile. This element, combined with the superficial resemblance to his bitter rival, makes for a stronger case.

Or is Snape just mean? We see how he gets his rocks off torturing poor Neville and describing the inferiority of all Gryffindors, not to mention taking way too much pleasure in belittling Hermione. If we delve psychologically into Snape, we see that, once again, his upbringing comes into play. It is classic motivation. You’re a weak kid – picked on by others at school and shown no love at all at home. You grow up and find yourself in a position of power, and you wield that power tyrannically because you never had power over people in your life – now is the time to exact revenge on all the people who’ve done wrong things to you. (Snape looks to be in need very badly of a mother!) One could say he’s mean to Harry because he has been shaped by his past into a bitter, sadistic man, and he is in a position to, in his mind, do justice to the people (namely James and Sirius) who made his life a living hell. Add to that his ‘wizengenism’ (my latin word for hatred of the birth of a particular wizard, pronounced ‘wise-en-gene-ism’), which we see in his cruel remarks to Lily Evans in “Snape’s Worst Memory.”

What I really think is that the reason Snape’s worst memory is “Snape’s Worst Memory” is because, as much as he tried to fight it and as much as he didn’t want to, he fell under the spell of Lily Evans, knowing that he never had a chance with her in a million years. People are often cruel to others to mask their true feelings. Not to mention, when you like a girl and know you have no chance, what could be worse than: 1) being suspended upside down with your legs and underwear showing, when 2) the girlyou like has to save you from a bully. Your pride is hurt and you are ashamed so you 3) call her a Mudblood only to have her 4) tell you go to hell and dismiss the attack on you as well deserved, and 5) ultimately have her like you even less. That makes for a really crappy day and a pretty bad memory.

Harry stands as a constant reminder that Snape could never possess Lily. Snape lost his biggest battle to James. By Harry’s mere existence, Snape is reminded that he lost and continues to lose every day that Harry breathes. Not to mention, any feelings Snape may have had for Lily would have been unknown to Dumbledore as a possible motivation for Snape continuing to do things for Harry. Not only is he getting even with James for saving his life, but he is also protecting Harry, a way to impress Lily even though she’s gone.

Snape – The Quadruple Agent

Double agent isn’t big enough to cover exactly what Snape is doing for the Order (or Voldemort). We learn in GoF that Snape joined the Death Eaters of his own free will. At some point, there was an exchange between Dumbledore and Snape, and Snape turned into a spy for the Order. Then, he was apprehended and put on trial, at which point Dumbledore personally vouched for him and he was set free and immediately given the job of Potions Master at Hogwarts – just shortly after the ‘lost day.’ OotP says that Snape has had the job for fourteen years, putting him in the job just after the Potters were killed and the Longbottoms maimed, and not quite two years after another infamous hiring: Sibyl Trelawney (but we’ll get to that one later).

Snape joins Dumbledore’s list of people (which includes Hagrid) that he would trust with his life. Like Harry and Moody, I don’t trust Snape. I think he’s a vicious dog waiting to pounce. He’s a meanie, but I believe he’s loyal to his master like most vicious dogs.

My theory is that Dumbledore caught Snape doing some illegal activity and had a talk with him. Snape is a realist. Coming from the abusive home life that Snape dealt with and then coming to school and being picked on by the cool kids does not a functional member of society make. Snape has such an affinity for the Dark Arts. Hogwarts doesn’t teach it. After school was out (meaning, in the five years between graduation at 17 years old and Voldemort’s fall when Snape/James/Lily/Sirius/Wormtail/Lupin were all 22 years old), he studied the Dark Arts extensively and probably fell in with Voldemort and the Death Eaters, who appealed to his sadistic sensibilities as well as giving him unprecedented access to info about the Dark Arts. However, as we have seen, Dumbledore has an affinity for weaker beings (which is why he hates Dementors, which prey on the weaknesses and pain of others) and probably had a soft spot for the extreme social misfit that is Snape when he was at school. He found a way to appeal to the scared, tortured little kid inside Snape that wants to do the right thing. He taught Snape Occlumency and Legilimency so that he could interact with Voldemort without Voldemort catching on and thus play double agent.

But what if he’s playing both sides? On that note, what if Voldemort ordered Snape to get in good with Dumbledore, taught him Occlumency and Legilimency so Dumbledore couldn’t tell that he was being played? Then where do Snape’s loyalties lie, his first mentor: the kindly headmaster who always had a soft spot for the misfit, or his second: the dictator who opened his mind to new ideas, new kinds of magic, and power beyond reason?

I feel certain that J.K. Rowling will answer this question in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. But, if I were to speculate, I’d say that Snape is on his own side. He is like Captain Renault in Casablanca (or for you younger moviegoers, think Lex Luthor inSuperman II or Christopher Walken’s character in Batman Returns). He blows where the prevailing wind takes him. He makes sure he is good with both sides so that no matter who takes over, he comes out on top. We know Snape is afraid of Voldemort (he wouldn’t use his name in OotP and Harry would). Do you really think if Voldemort won, that Snape would jump on Dumbledore’s bandwagon or vice-versa? He’s going to be on the winning side. It’s all a matter of who blinks first. Do I think Dumbledore should trust him fully? No. If Dumbledore wants to win this war, does he have a choice? Nope. Like it not, Snape is obviously giving Dumbledore enough information to satiate his appetite for intelligence and the same goes for Snape giving info to Voldemort. Snape is a very important chess piece in this contest of wizard world domination. Dumbledore is using Snape but at some point that chess piece might have to be taken. After all, the saying goes: “keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer.”