On Snape’s Evilness

by Nathan Coblentz

So far I haven’t seen anyone argue for Snape being a traitor. I’m a bit taken aback to be in somewhat of a minority on this, as it seems blatantly obvious, both from the events ofHalf-Blood Prince and snippets from recent JKR interviews. This is my attempt to refute all you Snape loyalists out there. I know you want to believe he’s still good, but I honestly can’t see it. This is my interpretation of the events:

Spinner’s End

I believe Snape can be taken for face value here. Some have mentioned his slight hesitation at the third part of the Unbreakable Vow where Narcissa ups the ante. I don’t see this as evidence of him not knowing what he was getting himself into. I see it as a point of no return for him. I believe Narcissa’s questions to Snape echo our own, and was Rowling’s way of making it obvious that Snape is NOT on Dumbledore’s side.

The Argument

Harry concludes that Dumbledore must have been angry at Snape for his lack of thoroughness in his investigation of Slytherin after the accidents. In other words, their agreement was not that Snape would kill Dumbledore — it was simply that Snape would look into the situation, especially Draco. This is evidenced when Dumbledore reveals to Draco in “The Lightning-Struck Tower” that he had ordered Snape to keep an eye on him.

“As a matter of fact, I did,” said Dumbledore. “I was sure it was you.”

“Why didn’t you stop me, then?” Malfoy demanded.

“I tried, Draco. Professor Snape has been keeping watch over you on my orders.”

-Chapter 27, pg. 588, U.S. hardback edition

There is no hard evidence for the other theory, and it begs the question — who would benefit? From Dumbledore’s perspective, how would this agreement help the Order or Harry? From Snape’s perspective, how would telling Dumbledore this help Snape or the Order? In other words, how does Dumbledore’s death help anything? I’ve heard the argument that it’s more important for Snape to be alive so he can continue to pass information to the Order, but

  1. Once he’s killed Dumbledore, who will listen to him?
  2. What valuable information has Snape passed to Dumbledore since being appointed to the DADA position? By the end of HBP we have received much more valuable information from Lupin about the werewolves, and from Dumbledore’s Pensieve research. Aside from this, we are basically in the dark about what Lord Voldemort is actually up to.

According to Hagrid, Snape tells Dumbledore he doesn’t want to do “it” anymore. What makes more sense? Snape doesn’t want to save his own life and kill Dumbledore anymore, or Snape doesn’t want to keep spying on the Death Eaters at great personal risk? Again, none of what we’ve learned about Voldemort in HBP has come from Snape. I think this is why.

But wouldn’t it make a good plot twist? I don’t think so. If the story hinges on some mysterious pact between Snape and Dumbledore, it would be too important for JKR to not explain very clearly in the wrap up of HBP; this is her pattern. The Pettigrew/Scabbers revelation was explained clearly in PoA, as was Crouch Jr.’s cover, via Veritaserum, in GoF. The end of HBP is just as clear to me. The twist isn’t that Snape is still loyal, despite killing Dumbledore. The twist is that Snape murdered Dumbledore!

“None of this surprises me.”

When Harry reveals his fears about Snape, Dumbledore isn’t surprised at all. I think during the course of their argument, Snape told Dumbledore of Malfoy’s plot, but didn’t tell him about the Unbreakable Vow. To Snape, knowing that either Draco or he would have to kill Dumbledore eventually, this revelation would not be astonishing, nor damaging to the trust Snape is fostering. This way, Dumbledore could still be suspicious of Draco, but none the wiser to Snape’s motives, regardless of what Snape may have been overheard saying about helping Malfoy.

The Showdown

It has been argued that Dumbledore was pleading for mercy, or for death. But let’s look at it again. Dumbledore clearly trusted Snape up until the last moment. He wasn’t at all surprised to find Draco, because Snape, whom he trusted, had already tipped him off. It finally dawned on him during that last sickening moment that he had been wrong all along, and it was too late. His final plea to Snape was not about saving OR sparing his life. It was about his loyalties. In that last second of silent communication between their minds, he was pleading for Snape to help fight the Death Eaters and not to betray the Order.

But instead, Snape used Avada Kedavra. Can there be any more solid evidence for his treachery than this? Avada Kedavra is NOT a mercy killing spell. It is murder, and the mother of all Unforgivables. It’s the same curse Voldemort used to kill James and Lily, and with which he tried to kill Harry. We know it requires intense, focused hatred towards another individual. The look of hatred in Snape’s eyes was not self hatred. It was not hatred of the situation he had wound up in. He hated Dumbledore, henceAvada Kedavra. But why did he spare Harry? It wasn’t to protect him. What protection is left after Dumbledore dies? It must be because he knew Voldemort was biding his time, and wants to deal with Harry at his own leisure.

Do you need more evidence? What about Snape’s general mannerisms, particularly his behavior towards Harry? Dumbledore never knew just how abusive Snape was to Harry when nobody else was around, because Harry didn’t feel the need to burden him with every little thing. He found other ways to deal with it. Any character who is truly loyal to Dumbledore and the Order would not be so unbelievably sadistic towards Harry, taking out his bitterness against James on Harry, or gloating over his or Sirius’ deaths at every possible opportunity. Or, for that matter, going against Dumbledore’s orders and discontinuing those Occlumency lessons, knowing full well their significance. I doubt Dumbledore would have trusted Snape so much if he had witnessed this kind of behavior first hand.

Or how about this — Dumbledore foreshadowed his own mistake in “The House of Gaunt.” Harry asks him if he thinks he is correct regarding his theories on Voldemort’s origins. To which Dumbledore wisely replies,

“Naturally I do, but as I have already proven to you, I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being — forgive me — rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.”
–Chapter 10, pg. 197, U.S. hardback edition

This goes along perfectly with the times Rowling herself has warned us about Snape. JKR said in her recent interview with Emerson and Melissa that Dumbledore’s extreme intelligence isolates him from others and does not protect him from errors of judgement. See?

ES: How can someone so –JKR: Intelligent –

ES: be so blind with regard to certain things?

JKR: Well, there is information on that to come, in seven. But I would say that I think it has been demonstrated, particularly in books five and six that immense brainpower does not protect you from emotional mistakes and I think Dumbledore really exemplifies that. In fact, I would tend to think that being very, very intelligent might create some problems and it has done for Dumbledore, because his wisdom has isolated him, and I think you can see that in the books, because where is his equal, where is his confidante, where is his partner? He has none of those things. He’s always the one who gives, he’s always the one who has the insight and has the knowledge. So I think that, while I ask the reader to accept that McGonagall is a very worthy second in command, she is not an equal. You have a slightly circuitous answer, but I can’t get much closer than that.

So, is there still hope for Snape? I think there’s always hope for redemption in stories like this. In fact, the more evil Snape is now, the more meaningful and satisfying it will be to us as readers if he has a turnaround. It is yet to be seen whether his Unbreakable Vow to protect Draco counts as fulfilled, so as for his future, anyone’s guess is as good as mine!

If anyone would like to argue about this with me, please feel free to do so at NathanCoblentz at gmail dot com.