Dumbledore’s Man Through and Through
by Dan McAllister
I’m sure we can all agree that the actions of Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince are very surprising. I believe that Snape’s behavior throughout the book (including the murder of Dumbledore!) makes sense only if Snape is a good guy, not a bad guy. Please hear me out before you completely dismiss this theory.
Let’s examine selected scenes from HBP in which Snape appears or is mentioned. I will show you how each scene supports my theory that Snape is Dumbledore’s man.
Spinner’s End (Chapter 2)
Assume for a moment that you are Severus Snape and that you are loyal to Dumbledore. Your mission for the Order of the Phoenix is to spy on Voldemort by pretending to be a faithful Death Eater. Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange have just shown up at your door, and Narcissa wants you to swear an Unbreakable Vow to protect Draco and to kill Dumbledore if Draco cannot complete this task. How can you refuse without showing your true loyalty, especially with Bellatrix Lestrange questioning your loyalty to Voldemort? You can’t.
I contend that, whether good or evil, Severus Snape had no choice but to make the Unbreakable Vow because the Vow showed his loyalty to the Death Eaters. If you read carefully, Snape gives us a clue to show he is reluctant to make the vow:
“And, should it prove necessary, if it seems Draco will fail,” whispered Narcissa (Snape’s hand twitched within hers, but he did not draw away), “will you carry out the deed that the Dark Lord has ordered Draco to perform?”
There was a moments silence, Bellatrix watched, her wand upon their clasped hands, her eyes wide.
“I will,” said Snape.
Snape’s hand twitched. This small hand movement is certainly not ironclad proof of anything, but I believe it shows Snapes hesitance to make the vow.
The Unbreakable Vow (Chapter 15)
In Chapter 15, Snape drags Malfoy away from Slughorn’s party and the two argue about Dracos mission. Harry overhears the tail-end of the argument.
“Listen to me,” said Snape, his voice so low now that Harry had to push his ear very hard against the keyhole to hear. “I am trying to help you. I swore to your mother I would protect you. I made the Unbreakable Vow, Draco-“
“Looks like you’ll have to break it, then, because I don’t need your protection! It’s my job, he gave it to me and Im doing it. I’ve got a plan and it’s going to work, it’s just taking a bit longer than I thought it would!”
“What is your plan?”
“It’s none of your business!”
“If you tell me what you are trying to do, I can assist you-“
Ron explains what Snape is trying to do in this scene.
“Course, you know what they’ll all say? Dad and Dumbledore and all of them? They’ll say Snape isn’t really trying to help Malfoy, he was just trying to find out what Malfoy’s up to.”
I believe Ron’s got it half right here — Snape is trying to find out what Malfoy is doing so that he can inform Dumbledore and the Order, but also so that he can better protect Malfoy, as the Unbreakable Vow requires. Snape was forced to make the vow, but hes trying to use it to help him spy on Malfoy for the Order. Evidence exists that Snape has told Dumbledore about Malfoy’s mission, and the Unbreakable Vow, in Harry’s next lesson with Dumbledore.
Dumbledore listened to Harry’s story with an impassive face. When Harry had finished he did not speak for a few moments, then said, “Thank you for telling me this, Harry, but I suggest that you put it out of your mind. I do not think it is of great importance.”
“Not of great importance?” repeated Harry incredulously. “Professor, did you understand-?”
“Yes, Harry, blessed as I am with extraordinary brainpower, I understood everything you told me,” said Dumbledore, a little sharply. “I think you might even consider the possibility that I understood more than you did. Again, I am glad that you have confided in me, but let me reassure you that you have not told me anything that causes me disquiet.”
Harry sat in seething silence, glaring at Dumbledore. What was going on? Did this mean that Dumbledore had indeed ordered Snape to find out what Malfoy was doing, in which case he had already heard everything Harry had just told him from Snape? Or was he really worried by what he had heard, but pretending not to be?
We can’t be positive of what is going on here, but I believe that Snape had indeed informed Dumbledore of everything. I hope you will too by the end of this editorial.
Dumbledores Murder (Chapter 27)
In the moment when Snape murders Dumbledore, we are meant to believe that Snape has betrayed Dumbledore. Dumbledore pleads with Snape, but Snape kills him with a quick Avada Kedavra.
If you accept that Snape has told Dumbledore about the Unbreakable Vow and Malfoy’s assignment, Dumbledores actions in the scene do not make much sense. He knows that Snape made an Unbreakable Vow to kill him! Why would he plead for his life when there is no way that Snape could break the vow? The answer may surprise you. Here’s the relevant text:
“We’ve got a problem, Snape,” said the lumpy Amycus, whose eyes and wand were fixed alike upon Dumbledore, “the boy doesn’t seem able-“
But somebody else had spoken Snape’s name, quite softly.
The sound frightened Harry beyond anything he had experienced all evening. For the first time, Dumbledore was pleading. Snape said nothing, but walked forwards and pushed Malfoy roughly out of the way. Three Death Eaters fell back without a word. Even the werewolf seemed cowed. Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face.
“Severus … please …”
Snape raised his wand and pointed it directly at Dumbledore.
Snape is not a stupid man. On the contrary, he has proven himself to be quite bright over the course of the series. He arrived on the rooftop, saw Dumbledore defenseless, and Snape saw not one, but two broomsticks— just as Draco Malfoy did.
Malfoy stepped forwards, glancing around quickly to check that he and Dumbledore were alone. His eyes fell upon the second broom.
“Who else is here?”
Snape is a smarter guy than Malfoy — two broomsticks and only one rider? I contend that Snape knew or suspected right away that Harry Potter was somewhere nearby concealed underneath his Invisibility Cloak. With this information, Dumbledore’s pleading makes more sense. Dumbledore is not pleading for his own life; he is pleading for Snape to save Harry’s life! And Snape does exactly that by hurrying the Death Eaters off the rooftop immediately.
Harry felt as though he, too, were hurtling through space; it had not happened…it could not have happened…
“Out of here, quickly,” said Snape.
He seized Malfoy by the scruff of the neck and forced him through the door ahead of the rest…”
In fact, Snape saves Harry’s life again near Hagrid’s house. A Death Eater has apparently used the Cruciatus Curse on Harry.
But before he could finish this jinx, excruciating pain hit Harry; he keeled over in the grass, someone was screaming, he would surely die of this agony, Snape was going to torture him to death or madness-
“No!” roared Snape’s voice and the pain stopped as suddenly as it had started; Harry lay curled on the dark grass, clutching his wand and panting; somewhere above him Snape was shouting, “Have you forgotten our orders? Potter belongs to the Dark Lord — we are to leave him! Go! Go!”
Just after Snape reveals that he is the Half-Blood Prince, it appears that he is going to kill Harry, but I do not think that was his intention in this scene:
“Kill me, then,” panted Harry, who felt no fear at all, but only rage and contempt. “Kill me like you killed him, you coward-“
“DONT-” screamed Snape, and his face was suddenly demented, inhuman, as though he was in as much pain as the yelping, howling dog stuck in the burning house behind them, “-CALL ME COWARD!”
And he slashed at the air: Harry felt a white-hot, whiplike something hit him across the face and was slammed backwards into the ground. Spots of light burst in front of his eyes and for a moment all the breath seemed to have gone from his body, then he heard a rush of wings above him and something enormous obscured the stars: Buckbeak had flown at Snape…
Snape loses control of his emotions and hits Harry with a nasty spell, but he did not use Avada Kedavra. I believe that Snape would’ve run away even if Buckbeak had not flown in to save the day. If Snape wanted Harry dead, he had the opportunity just a moment before, when Harry was being tortured.
One final clue makes me believe Snape is still Dumbledore’s man. When Flitwick arrives at Snape’s office to tell Snape about the Death Eaters’ attack, Snape stupefies Flitwick and encounters Hermione and Luna outside his office and tells them to help Flitwick. Here is Remus Lupin’s comment in Chapter 29:
“It’s not your fault,” said Lupin firmly. “Hermione, had you not obeyed Snape and got out of the way, he would have killed you and Luna.”
This begs the question: If Snape is a Death Eater through and through, why didn’t he kill Hermione? This encounter was a perfect opportunity for Snape to dispatch the annoying, know-it-all Mudblood, whom he has hated since Book 1, with a quick Avada Kedavra. Hermione, believing Snape to be an ally, would’ve been caught completely off her guard.
In conclusion, I believe Hagrid was exactly right when he explained his initial reaction to Snape’s behavior:
“What musta happened was, Dumbledore musta told Snape ter go with them Death Eaters,” Hagrid said confidently. “I suppose he’s gotta keep his cover. Look, let’s get yeh back up ter the school. Come on Harry ”
Hagrid is right on the money. Snape, having made the Unbreakable Vow (remember, he had no choice — he had to make it), was going to have to kill Dumbledore. Dumbledore knew he was going to have to die, so he used his death to his advantage. Snape is now ideally positioned to betray Voldemort and help Harry in Book 7.
Snape is not the vicious murderer we are supposed to take him for. He was forced into making the Unbreakable Vow, and, once he made it, he used it to his advantage to try to spy on Malfoy and to gain the trust of the Death Eaters, all the better to help Harry in Book 7. Severus Snape is Dumbledore’s man, through and through.
And let’s not forget the most important thing in Snape’s favor: Albus Dumbledore trusted Severus Snape. And, as Lupin says:
“It comes down to whether or not you trust Dumbledore’s judgement. I do; therefore, I trust Severus.”