by Lady Lupin
I have decided to weigh in on The Snape Question, which we’ll all be consideringad infinitum for the next two years. I believe an argument can be made for either Good Snape or Bad Snape, which does lend credence to the Complex Snape Theory. Through all of the editorials so far, I have heard arguments about Snape’s choices, but not much about Dumbledore’s choices. I think that Dumbledore’s choices are very interesting and probably very telling. However, being the clever genius that she is, Jo has constructed everything so that we can see it from many different angles, depending on our own individual proclivities. The very fact that we all can read the same words and see such different things in them is a testament to human complexity and our subjective nature. We see things based on our own likes, dislikes, experiences and prejudices. Even Dumbledore is subject to his own impressions, objective as he tries to be. This article will explore Dumbledore’s choices, as well as some other interesting moments that could pull us in many different directions.
It’s Dumbledore’s behavior in relation to the question of Snape’s motives that intrigues me the most in HBP. His actions are not definitive, and his motives could point in several directions, but they are definitely clues of some sort.
Looking out for Harry…
Dumbledore himself tipped me off to his own imminent death, though not the means, when we first visit Number 4 Privet Drive in HBP. Dumbledore hasn’t visited Privet Drive since he dropped off Harry after Voldemort’s attack at Godric’s Hollow. Granted, he is on his way to meet Horace Slughorn and wants Harry with him, so perhaps his visit itself isn’t so odd. However, he doesn’t merely get Harry and go. He sits with the Dursleys and makes sure that they understand exactly what is happening in the wizarding world. He also ensures that Harry will be able to return to Privet Drive the following summer, until he turns 17 and comes of age. Why does he need to do this a year in advance? He has never done that before.
Perhaps Dumbledore has a good strong hunch, based on what he already knows, that he may not survive until next summer. Between his injury with the ring Horcrux, his awareness that his reflexes are slower and he isn’t as strong as he used to be, and the knowledge that there are several more Horcruxes yet to be found, it may well be argued that Dumbledore is simply hedging his bets. He knows that he is in danger, as is everyone.
However, that was true last year as well, particularly as the Ministry was so united against him. He did not, then, prevail upon the Dursleys a year in advance to take Harry back the summer before his sixth year, nor did he show up on their doorstep when Harry was about to be kicked out by Uncle Vernon. A short and to-the-point Howler did the trick. There was still an assumption that Dumbledore would be there the following summer if trouble came along. I don’t believe he feels free to make that assumption in HBP. The reason may be that Snape has come to him after Narcissa and Bella’s visit to Spinner’s End, and told him of the Unbreakable Vow. Or, it may be that he simply understands and accepts that he is mortal, and that, as the Weasley’s clock tells us, everyone is in mortal peril.
It is interesting that, when Dumbledore’s hand is injured, it is Snape that saves him. We cannot know the timing of Dumbledore finding the ring Horcrux. Only that it happened sometime in the fortnight or so between the end of OotP (where his hand wasn’t injured) and his coming to pick up Harry in Chapter 3 of HBP. Dumbledore says that Snape’s skill is what saved him when he came back to Hogwarts. Was Snape the only one with the skills to save him? If so, could he not have simply “failed” on purpose, and allowed Dumbledore to die? Would there be some reason why Voldemort didn’t want Dumbledore to die yet? Possibly because the testing of Draco was a sadistic part of the Dark Lord’s plan, and Dumbledore needed to be kept alive for that? I think that this is an open question, which could point toward Good Snape, but isn’t conclusive (as, I fear, nothing WILL be, unless and until Jo decides to conclude!).
The Unbreakable Vow
Regardless of whose side he is on, Snape is trapped in this scene. Not only is he with Bella and Narcissa, but Wormtail is also listening in. If he is really working for Dumbledore and he refuses the vow, he will be exposed to Voldemort. If he is really working for Voldemort and takes the vow, he is agreeing to expose himself to Dumbledore and the Order — which will be the end of his life as he knows it.
If he is Good Snape, it’s reasonable to assume he made the vow and then went straight to Dumbledore. Remember, if Snape is really on Dumbledore’s side, and if he knows of “The Plan” which he discusses with Narcissa in Chapter 2, then Dumbledore also already knows that Voldemort has assigned Draco to kill him. After Snape and Narcissa make the vow, Dumbledore now knows that someone needs to succeed in killing him this year, either Draco or Snape. Otherwise, Snape, Draco, Narcissa and Lucius will all end up dead. It is plausible that everything that Dumbledore chooses in HBP springs from this fact, from his visit to Privet Drive to the particular lessons he gives Harry, to the confrontation Hagrid overhears to his choice of Snape for DADA teacher. I don’t, however, think Dumbledore would roll over and accept this death without a lot of mitigating circumstances. Dumbledore is too valuable in the fight against Voldemort. He is intelligent and honest enough to know his own worth. I cannot find solid evidence to convince me of a reason for Dumbledore to choose to sacrifice himself. However, his actions are those of a man who knows he is not long for this world.
The DADA Position
Why has Dumbledore never given Snape the DADA job? Until HBP, we have only been told that Dumbledore thinks it would bring out the worst in Snape. I believe that Jo, herself, has said this. But how does this (as a sole explanation) jive with Dumbledore’s constant assertion that he trusts Severus Snape? If he trusts him, why not give him the job? Does he only trust Snape if Snape isn’t tempted? That isn’t exactly trust.
It’s possible Snape never got the job because Dumbledore knew that no one had lasted for more than a year since Voldemort’s last visit. If Dumbledore trusted Snape and felt Snape’s contribution to be useful and important to the Order, he would have believed that he needed Snape to stay at Hogwarts. Why, then, would Dumbledore give Snape the job in Harry’s sixth year, unless he knows in advance that Snape doesn’t need to stay at Hogwarts any longer? Consider the possibility that Dumbledore and Snape have discussed the Unbreakable Vow, and that they both agreed that if, by the end of the year, Draco hasn’t succeeded in killing Dumbledore, Snape will have to. Once that happens, Snape will most definitely have to leave Hogwarts. If he hadn’t gotten off the property when he did, Harry and Buckbeak/Witherwings wouldn’t have been the only ones chasing him down.
Again, the thing that troubles me about this theory is why did Dumbledore decide it was time to sacrifice himself? I believe that Dumbledore would lay down his life to save Harry’s, Snape’s or anyone else’s without a moment’s consideration. But why did he decide in advance that this was the best course? I don’t feel satisfied with any answer to this yet.
It’s also possible that Dumbledore simply didn’t know another good DADA teacher and DID know a good Potions teacher. Also, remember, Slughorn knows something about those Horcruxes, and Dumbledore wants to get it out of him. He may have decided that getting him to Hogwarts was a necessity, and the only way to do it was to give in and give Snape the DADA position.
However, even if Dumbledore knew no other way to get Slughorn to Hogwarts, he would know that he is all but sacrificing Snape by putting him in the DADA job. I find it hard to justify that decision if he didn’t know some reason that Snape wouldn’t be staying into Harry’s seventh year.
When Hagrid slips (as Hagrid is wont to do) and tells Harry that Snape is angry with Dumbledore, Snape’s choice of words is important.
“Well — I jus’ heard Snape sayin’ Dumbledore took too much for granted an’ maybe he — Snape — didn’ wan’ ter do it anymore –“
Then Hagrid goes on to say that Dumbledore told Snape that he had agreed to do it, and that was all there was to it. Hagrid describes the conversation as “heated” and says that Dumbledore was “firm” with Snape.
Notice that Snape accuses Dumbledore of expecting too much, assuming too much. Snape has changed his mind about something that he has agreed to do, and Dumbledore is holding him to his word. What could Dumbledore possibly be expecting that Snape would consider too much? There could certainly be many things that Dumbledore might ask that Snape wouldn’t want to do.
However, if he were working under cover and trying to hide his true motivations, would Snape argue with Dumbledore? Would he not do whatever Dumbledore asked, play the loyal follower and keep his mutinous thoughts to himself? And why did the discussion have to take place in the Forbidden Forrest? Even the headmaster portraits couldn’t be privy to this conversation?
I am inclined to believe that, as the year wears on, Severus begins to feel the cold, horrible reality of the task in front of him. How long has it been since Snape “split” his own soul with murder as a Death Eater? Did he ever? Or did he manage to avoid killing during the first war? What would it feel like to be forced to go back?
I find it interesting that what Dumbledore chooses to “teach” Harry is all in the form of memories. Again, this is one of those choices that could be argued away simply by saying that learning all he can about Voldemort makes sense for Harry in light of the task ahead of him. However, there may be more to it than that.
What is particularly interesting to me is that Dumbledore doesn’t continue to teach Harry Occlumency, nor does he push him to learn his nonverbal spells, work harder at Charms or DADA, or teach him Legilimancy or any of those tricky, impressive wandless spells that the most advanced of the advanced wizards know. Why? Why memories? Because it is the one thing that no one else can teach Harry. Other wizards can teach him everything else, but no one can give him Dumbledore’s memories, and those that he has gathered from others. Why then, didn’t Dumbledore do it sooner? Because there was time. This year, for some reason, Dumbledore knows that he is running out of time. He must pass this on, now, and trust other wizards to teach Harry anything else he needs to know.
Most of the opinions I’ve read on all sides agree that Dumbledore wouldn’t plead for his life. Powerful arguments have been made for other meanings to this plea. I believe he is pleading for Snape to choose what is right, in that moment. The question is, what does he see as right? Is he pleading for Harry’s life, Snape’s life, Draco’s life? The continuation of the “ruse” with Snape as Death Eater? I do think that Snape could still have value as a spy, even if he cannot report back to the Order. He can sabotage. He could be one of the closest and most trusted of Voldemort’s followers, who is well positioned to help Harry in a crucial moment.
If he is asking for Snape to kill him, I believe that he is asking for what is arguably a far harder sacrifice than he himself is making. Imagine it, if we really are dealing with Good Snape: the one person who believed in you, accepted you with all your flaws and damage — and your final task from him is to kill him and then live with the consequences. How horrible! I think that this is a reasonable explanation for the “hate and revulsion” that Harry sees on Snape’s face. It seems very probable that Snape truly does hate Dumbledore in that moment, for forcing his hand to this action, forcing him to rip his own soul, forcing him to lose the only life he has known for years. It is even possible that Dumbledore and Snape have their own Unbreakable Vow. Perhaps that is why Dumbledore trusts Snape so implicitly. It may be that Snape has sworn to do what Dumbledore tells him, no matter what. Or, perhaps Snape has sworn to protect Harry no matter what.
If, indeed, Snape did feel remorse after spilling the Prophecy to Voldemort, perhaps Dumbledore’s complete trust in him springs from the fact that Snape made an Unbreakable Vow to protect Harry.
On the other hand, Snape could be, for the first time, dropping his perfectly constructed ruse against Dumbledore, and Dumbledore could be desperate to save Snape’s life and soul by persuading him to come to the side of Right, before it’s too late. Again, it’s been so expertly written that it’s impossible to be certain until…well…until we are certain!
“DON’T…CALL ME COWARD!”
Note that, as Snape says this, he is described as looking as though he is in as much pain as a yelping howling dog. He has lost and he is in pain. This seems very significant to me. Not rage, hatred, glee, condescension or triumph…pain. He flings a nasty curse at Harry, but nothing that causes him lasting harm, and not an Unforgivable. He lashes out in pain.
Whatever the truth of Snape’s underlying motive, he has just crossed the Rubicon, and he is in extreme anguish of his own. Either because he has just given up his cover, exposed himself for the traitor that he is, and lost his work, home and life as he knows it, or because he has just done something that he loathed doing — something he has done out of obligation — and he will always be hated and judged for doing it. A third possibility is that he has just made a decision about what to do, and now he is in the shock of knowing that he has to live with the consequences of that choice.
I believe Harry pours a vat of salt into Snape’s torn soul at that moment. Snape has just given up everything. And I’m not convinced that Snape will be honored above all others and be Voldemort’s favorite son because of his actions. Remember what Dumbledore says about Voldemort and other tyrants like him?
“Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!”
I wonder if Snape will find himself the subject of suspicion and fear from Voldemort, now that he has accomplished something that Voldemort never could: the murder of Dumbledore. I somehow don’t think that Voldemort will be completely at ease with a follower who managed something that he had never succeeded in achieving.
Yet, Snape now has nowhere to go but to Voldemort. His soul is ripped, the one person who believed in him is dead, he’ll be the world’s most wanted wizard next to Voldemort and he is entirely alone in the world. It’s a terrible sentence, if he really is Good Snape. If he is Bad Snape, he has made his bed and if it’s made of nails, so much the better! What if he’s Complex Snape? How do we determine “proper” consequences for the actions of complicated, conflicted people…people who are a lot more like the rest of us than the Dumbledores and Voldemorts of the world?
“Shut your mouth and close your mind…”
Snape’s parting shot at Harry seems like another one of his famous insults, but it is also an instruction: Harry will never be quick enough to battle Voldemort until he masters these two things. Snape’s lesson is brutal and biting, as Snape’s lessons are. Does he mean it as a humiliating, mocking taunt, or as a ruthless but truthful warning? Or, does he mean both?
The brief mention of Emmeline in Chapter 2 is hard to explain away if Snape is loyal to Dumbledore. Snape tells Belletrix and Narcissa that he gave Voldemort information that led to the capture and murder of Emmeline Vance. I have wracked my brain looking for a plausible explanation for this that doesn’t point to Snape’s disloyalty to Dumbledore. I’m interested in any theories out there! I cannot imagine how Snape could successfully take “credit” for this unless he actually had something to do with it — in which case, he led an Order member to her death. Very troubling for the Good Snape camp.
Oh What A Tangled Web…
The fact is, Snape could easily be working for either side, and only Jo knows for sure. My preferences are colored by several things (besides my deep and abiding passion for Alan Rickman). As I said at the beginning of this article, I think our views are all colored by our own proclivities. I find in myself the desire to believe that there is some redemption, purpose and integrity behind Snape’s choices.
To argue for Good Snape, I love the idea that Snape is a thoroughly unlovable, mean and nasty character who is on the right side. As Sirius told us in OotP, “The world is not divided into good people and Death Eaters.” Second, he has spent far too much effort and time saving Harry’s life, and it would just frankly break my sentimental heart if it were all a false pretense. Third, Dumbledore always trusted Snape with a certainty that belies his simple explanation of Snape’s remorse after he spills the Prophecy. I think there is more to that trust than we yet know.
The primary reason to love the Bad Snape argument, from my perspective, is the inverse of the above: it gives us a flawed Dumbledore — the Great Wizard who is not perfect or all knowing. This is extremely appealing to me, because I love the ideas that Jo begins to bring out at the end of HBP: that sometimes very intelligent people can make very big mistakes. Dumbledore admits errors over the course of the series, and certainly is a human sort of mentor. He isn’t omniscient. He misses things. It may be true that this was Dumbledore’s worst error, and that he paid the ultimate price for his mistake.
It is entirely appropriate that Snape’s home should be the twisted roads of Spinner’s End. Spinner — a careful, impeccable, precise spider, creating an intricate and confusing web to trap the unsuspecting. And it is the end of the Spinner — or at least the spinning. The web is spun, and someone will be caught in it. Was it Dumbledore or will it be Voldemort?
I truly hope that is will be Voldemort. I hope that, miserable, greasy git that he indeed is, Snape will, in the end, show us that his contribution has been meaningful. Perhaps I am too trusting. Maybe I have a bit too much Dumbledore in me to see it any other way. And, in this world, is that really such a bad thing?