Suicide by Werewolf?

by Theresa Faustina

Since the Prisoner of Azkaban’’s description of the Whomping Willow Incident, most readers probably imagined that Snape learned of Lupin’’s lycanthropy on that night, right as James saved his life from the murderous beast. Since “Snape’’s Worst Memory” in OotP, I’ve felt rather sorry for Snape, the victim of the bullying Marauders. I’ve always thought there was a good chance that the Whomping Willow Incident was the final straw in the battle between the Marauders and Snape, that somehow the events of that night and the lack of consequences for the Marauders led Snape to finally throw in the towel and join the Death Eaters. Yet, on mulling over the events shown in the books and pondering Snape’s character, I came up with another idea. What if Snape knew that Lupin was a werewolf BEFORE he entered the passage under the Willow?

BUT WHY WOULD A SLYTHERIN RISK DEATH?

In this scenario, fifteen or sixteen year-old Snape planned to commit suicide by werewolf. I know we’ve been told that Slytherins will always act to save their own skins, but I suggest that not all Slytherins share Lord Voldemort’s obsession with immortality and self-preservation. The Lestranges could have avoided years in Azkaban, but they cared more about their precious master-sadist than for their own lives and happiness. So, is it really all that difficult to imagine that Teenage Snape might have cared more for sweet revenge than for his own, apparently miserable, existence? And what a revenge it would have been. With his gory death, he would have ruined the lives of the people he hated most. Lupin would have either been killed, sent to Azkaban, or expelled. Sirius would have gone to Azkaban for murder. If James and Peter faced no legal ramifications, they would at least have been miserable at having lost their dearest friends in such a horrible way. Snape likely knew that wizards who don’t want to move on with their deaths get to come back as ghosts; maybe he planned on haunting James and taunting him as long as possible before the Ministry steps in. Moaning Myrtle made Olive Hornby’s life pretty hellish there for a few years. Snape could certainly have done some emotional damage, a little gloat here, a little smirk there, for a good long while.

WHY SNAPE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN

I came up with this idea because I was having a hard time understanding why Snape, ever suspicious and paranoid, would have failed to even guess after five years that Lupin is a werewolf. Even more bizarrely, he apparently followed Prankster Black’s advice and entered the Willow with so little precaution that James had to save his life. Remus’ friends figured out his condition in two years. They lived with him, so they noticed every one of his absences and saw his wounds and exhaustion. Now, I can understand why Snape didn’t figure it out for a while. Snape, until Year Six, may only have had one class with Remus. If the Slytherins and Gryffindors shared one CORE class then as they do in the Harry Years, and if Snape took no elective courses (such as Care of Magical Creatures) with the Marauders, it is quite possible that he wouldn’t notice Lupin’s regular absences for a while. Say he had Double Potions with them every Monday — he’d have only noticed Lupin’s absence if that one day of the week was a full moon. There are nine months in a school year, seven days in a week; Lupin would have been absent from Double Potions at most two times during that year. If other full moons fell on weekends and over the holidays, it makes sense that Snape wouldn’t have picked up on the pattern right away. That could easily happen; in PoA, Lupin misses only one of his classes with the Third Year Gryffindors.

What could have happened to finally tip Snape off? Well, in Fifth Year, the Marauders became animagi and came up with those ridiculous nicknames, which they used all over the school. Remus’ was “Moony.” Hmm. At the end of the year, Snape obsessed over his written DADA OWL– which contained a question on werewolves. Sirius also talked about how excited he was about the next full moon; if he did that every month, Snape or someone would have overheard eventually. Snape had five years of Astronomy; he should have known or been able to easily calculate when the full moons occurred. Plus, anyone in Hogsmeade could hear the sounds of Lupin’s painful transformation coming from the Shrieking Shack…every full moon. Could any Hogsmeade residents have commented on that? Could there have been a Hogsmeade outing the night of a full moon at some point?

Anyway, Year Six finally rolled around. We haven’t seen NEWT classes yet, but we know that Professors McGonagall and Snape trim their class lists based on OWL scores. They may include students from more Houses; if Professor Snape only admits students who received ‘O’s, there may be so few pupils that he can teach all Houses at once and save himself the extra hours. The Professors in the Marauder years may have done the same. So Snape and the Marauders may have shared a lot more class time, allowing Snape to notice nearly all of Remus’ absences. Pretty early into Sixth Year, Snape had most of the clues at his disposal. Hermione was able to discern Lupin’s secret based on: Lupin’s boggart, textbook information on werewolves, his ONE absence from class, his exhaustion, and quite possibly, Snape’s obsession with the topic of werewolves and his hatred of Lupin. Snape’s information differed a bit in quality, but the quantity of clues was even higher than that Hermione used. The question is, was he smart enough to figure them out?

I don’t subscribe to the ‘Snape is an absolute genius’ school of fandom, but Jo has repeatedly shown that his mind does excel at putting together patterns that incriminate his enemies. Given a Triwizard egg and a bit of parchment, he figured out that Harry was nearby in his Invisibility Cloak. Given a twice-escaped Sirius Black, he guessed that Potter must have had SOMETHING to do with it, even though it was supposedly, physically impossible. Snape’s problem has never been gullibility. He is much more likely to be blinded by his hatred and prejudice into being overly accusatory. He was convinced Lupin helped Sirius Black enter Hogwarts and thought that Potter must have broken into his office in GoF: wrong on both counts. You might think that Young Severus was more naive and trusting than ex-DE Professor Snape, but I doubt that was the case. In “Snape’s Worst Memory,” Snape seemed to expect the attack; he drew his wand immediately, sending off a hex. I think that after five years of being continually pranked, Snape would have been certain to suspect any free information falling from Black’s tongue. I’d think Draco would be a real idiot if he ate some candy Fred and George offered him. How could Snape, on Black’s little ‘tip,’ just merrily waltz right into the Willow Passage with no second glances or appropriate precautions? Fool Snape once, shame on Black…fool Snape six years running, shame on Snape. Either Sirius set up the prank with an extraordinary amount of cunning, or Snape was in the running with Crabbe and Goyle for the Stupid Award.

THE REAL SETUP, AND WHY IT WAS NECESSARY

It makes much more sense to me that Snape goaded Black with the express purpose of discovering how to access Lupin’s transformation room. Snape has always excelled at finding people’s hot buttons, and he could easily make it seem like just another one of his and Black’s spats. Without Black giving him the information, if Snape got killed by Lupin, it would be counted as just an unfortunate accident (with possible consequences for only Lupin and Dumbledore). The Ministry would say that Snape was sneaking around outside school, poking into where he shouldn’t be, and all the precautions taken couldn’t save him. Lupin’s life would be wrecked– if Dumbledore couldn’t bail him out anyway, but Snape’s most hated enemies would go free. With Black giving that little tip, though, it would become cold-hearted, pre-meditated murder. Black would confess to save his friend, and even if he didn’t, Snape-the-Ghost could just tell everyone what happened in all the nasty details. It was a brilliant set-up! And nothing could go wrong…until Potter ruined everything by saving Snape’s life.

A LOVELY LITERARY EXCURSION

I have always had the feeling that Jo is going to let us know a whole lot more about the Whomping Willow Incident because it, like the night of the Potter’s murders, continues to cast shadows on the present. And that incident can take two forms: Scenario One, in which we see or hear about a nasty fight between Sirius and Snape, the rescue from the jaws of Remus, the (probable) meeting with Dumbledore, the (likely) punishment or reward, the emotional turmoil Remus faced on waking up, and Snape’s bitterness. That’s a pretty interesting scene, but it won’t tell us much we can’t already easily deduce. Jo can also write Scenario Two, which is all told from Suicidal Snape’s perspective. He figures the werewolf thing out at the end of Year 5 or beginning of Year 6. He goads Sirius into saying the fateful words. He enters the Willow and drops or tosses his wand to make sure he’ll be good and helpless. That arrogant punk Potter shows up, wrecks his scheme, and he starts backpedalling, trying to at least get Sirius in the slammer for something. But intended murder just doesn’t have the same finality and gravity as murder, and nothing terrible happens to the Marauders. In Scenario Two, Snape is shown to be the scheming, vengeful, hate-filled manipulator that he really is, and we all lose a good bit of sympathy for him (as Jo has indicated we will in her interviews). The great thing about Scenario Two is that we can learn all of it from one source — Snape — in either a Pensieve or in bitter diatribe. Can you imagine Harry rudely asking, ‘It was your own stupid fault for not figuring out Lupin was a werewolf. You think you’re so smart; Hermione figured it out in a few months, and you couldn’t even catch on until he was right on top of you!” And then Snape spits out the whole sordid story. I love reading Loud Angry Snape, because when he finally loses control, it is just spectacular, what with the fountains of saliva, throbbing temple veins, and facial color changes. So, until I read otherwise, I’m sticking with Scenario Two: “Suicide By Werewolf.”

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