The Two-Way Mirror #22: Love or Hate?
I always felt safe and happy when Dumbledore was around. Still I didn’t realize how deeply I loved him until Half-Blood Prince, when I wanted to hug him from the moment I saw him, and watched fearfully as he revealed his withered arm… I kept a huge barrel of salt handy about the rumor of his death (which had struck me like icy air) and I was in determined denial until Snape uttered those words… Avada Kedavra… It hurt. There were so many moments when something welled up in me, starting with when Dumbledore, like a child, drank poison from the cup held by Harry’s hands… I cried like I don’t remember crying. I think this book was like Phoenix song, beautifully painful. It was a book about love and hate.
All the love that constituted a major theme of the book, the love that brought so many couples together up until the last pages made the supreme act of hate in its climax all the more shocking: Dumbledore’s murder.
The most important thing I think we need to admit is that Snape has performed an act. We can’t remove his act from him by saying that in fact it is Dumbledore’s act. Only if accept what Snape did can we begin to understand Snape.
I know that it is an intense story, the pain someone feels when obeying the order to kill a loved one. But who is the right actor for that story? If we give the role to Ron and have Harry beg him to kill him in order to destroy Voldemort (suppose Harry is a Horcrux), then we will all understand the pain Ron is feeling. It will be the pain of love. There has been enough of a build up in all the previous books of Ron’s love of Harry for us to feel Ron’s pain. Harry might even remind Ron that he let him sacrifice himself once, in McGonagall’s chess game, and that now it is Ron’s turn to help Harry sacrifice himself.
But Snape’s story is not Ron’s story. With Snape we are not meant to see the pain of love, but the pain of hate. We have to accept the character for what he is. Take him with his worst faults and try to understand him. If we accept Snape’s feelings, we will come closer to feeling with him the pain of his hate. Snape’s emotions towards other people have been almost without exception manifestations of hate: cruelty, sadism, brutality, pride, anger, vengefulness, immaturity, jealousy and ungratefulness. That is not to say that hate is all there is to Snape. I am sure that in an insulated corner of his heart there is love. But what Snape did when he killed Dumbledore is summon and express in a single powerful act all the hatred that he has accumulated over a life span. By murdering Dumbledore, Snape put himself face to face with his own hate. And I think this hate is painful.
What shocked me even more than Snape’s Avada Kedavra was his expression when he killed Dumbledore: “there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face.”
I could not believe that I was seeing hate in Snape’s face. What reasons has Snape to hate Dumbledore? Of all the people, I never expected Snape to hate Dumbledore. How could he hate a man who stood by him and trusted him when no one else did?
Rowling’s description of Snape’s hatred was not the expression of a passing shadow. His hatred was cut into his face, sculpted. It was etched in harsh lines. It was long-standing.
I hope that when Harry will meet Snape again in the seventh book they will fight a brutal battle. I want to see them shout like Muggles, wands forgotten.
Will Snape ever break down, become human, and have tears on his face?
Of all the characters in the books so far, Snape is our candidate for suicide. If Snape comes to the point of feeling such pain that he will want to take his own life, I want Fawkes to show up and speak to him. I want Fawkes to show him that it is a huge act of courage to live. Then I would like to see the Snape only symbolically end his life: break his own wand and choose to live as a Muggle among Muggles, learning Muggle arts, and acting penitently towards all human beings, like a true saint. The wizard will choose to be gone, but the human will live.
In the sixth book we started seeing the human face of Death Eaters, something I never would have expected. I was impressed. Evil Bellatrix turned out to be estranged from Voldemort, which made her slightly more sympathetic, and despite her protests that she would give her own children to the Dark Lord, she said to Narcissa: “Cissy, your own sister? You wouldn’t -” when she threatened her with the wand. We saw Narcissa cry and beg Severus for the sake of her son and husband. We saw Draco cry and confide in Moaning Myrtle. We saw him love his family and lower his wand before Dumbledore. The most touching human thing for me was what Draco said to Dumbledore about Greyback: “I didn’t know he was coming.”
We even saw the child Voldemort flush with sincere excitement at being told he was a wizard. But Voldemort was a born psychopath afraid of the asylum from a young age. I hope they will create a ward for treating evil wizards at Saint-Mungo’s. Nevertheless, we almost felt sorry even for Tom Riddle when we heard with Harry that his mother chose to abandon him…
Just when all these hardened Death Eaters started showing themselves against all odds capable of being human, the one Death Eater that we had hoped was a good sheep among the wolves turned out to commit the greatest act of hate.
Snape murdered our hero!
I am sure we are all waiting to see the human face behind the hateful act. I think, however, that for now we need to try to understand the hate. Snape’s character has been built to render entirely plausible for him to perform an act of supreme hate. The only seemingly implausible part is the apparent object of his hate: Dumbledore. Of all people, Dumbledore?! Can we bring ourselves to understand how Snape could ever hate Dumbledore?
Snape may have loved him.
The relationship between Hermione and Ron showed us that sometimes hateful acts are driven by pained love.
I think there is a whole lot of sibling rivalry for Dumbledore’s affection between Harry and Draco, and Snape and the Marauders. Dumbledore cares for all just the same, but… does he have favorites? Some think he does. Why was the whole theme of “favorites” introduced in the sixth book? Why does Draco harp on about Harry being Dumbledore’s favorite? Why does Draco sound annoyed despite his ostensive indifference on the train when he says “what’s it matter to me if some fat old has-been likes me or not?” and “What is he, when you come down to it? Just some stupid teacher.” Draco doesn’t sound entirely honest. Why does Draco vie with Snape to be Voldemort’s favorite, as he says to Dumbledore on the tower? Dumbledore already has a favorite, Harry, and Draco stands no chance to impress Dumbledore with his goodness… Might as well try to impress Voldemort with his badness. The one person that I don’t think could ever get over the fact that Harry was Dumbledore’s favorite was Snape. The more Dumbledore’s love for Harry grew, the more I am sure Snape’s hate for Dumbledore grew. For Snape, Dumbledore’s feelings for Harry might as well have been his feelings for James. I am sure Dumbledore’s telling Harry that James saved Snape’s life didn’t sit too well with Snape either. Dumbledore forgot that some wounds run too deep for the healing, and that Snape was immature.
The more jealous of Dumbledore’s love for Harry, the more ungrateful for Dumbledore’s trust in him Snape became. Before Voldemort came back, Snape could still say to impostor Moody with heartfelt pride: “Dumbledore happens to trust me.” But in Spinner’s End, I sensed a trace of bitterness: “He wouldn’t give me the Defense Against the Dark Arts job, you know. Seemed to think it might, ah, bring about a relapse… tempt me into my old ways.” If we add that Snape treated Dumbledore’s arm for a curse incurred during a Horcrux hunting mission in which he was not invited to join, I can see his reasons to hate Dumbledore growing. How come he, Snape, who knows more about the Dark Arts than anyone, was not allowed to share in Dumbledore’s adventure?
Did Dumbledore perhaps not trust him enough? But he trusted Harry with everything, or whose second broom is that?
Snape is jealous of Harry. His jealousy screams when he says to Bellatrix that Harry has “no extraordinary talent at all,” that “he is mediocre to the last degree, though as obnoxious and self-satisfied as his father before him.” Why is Snape so intent on reducing Harry to absolute dirt to the point of not even recognizing Harry’s extraordinary talent at Quidditch? Ah, yes, Harry’s talent is a reminder of James’s talent, of which he was just as jealous, calling it a “small talent on the Quidditch field” although he himself was not too apt with a broomstick, as we saw in his memory. And it was the sight of two broomsticks that revealed to Snape that Dumbledore trusted Harry more than him.
How is it that Harry gets to have one-on-one lessons with Dumbledore? How is it that Harry gets to join in all the action while Snape is asked to do the dirty job of spying? Remember how angry Harry was when he was kept in the dark while Ron and Hermione got to join in all the fun? Hadn’t Harry proven himself well up to the job, hadn’t he done much more than Ron and Hermione? Hadn’t Snape proven himself a genius and much more trustworthy than Harry who kept breaking school rules?
Every burst of anger that Harry has had, every burst of anger that Sirius has had, every burst of anger that Ron has had – these have also been felt by Snape.
Isn’t being a spy tantamount to being locked in 12 Grimmauld Place? When Snape was taunting Sirius that he was sitting on his backside while he, Snape, was running dangers, how truthful was he? You’ve noticed that Snape never really had to run any dangers, as Bellatrix reproached him, because he would have blown his cover. Snape had to sit quietly with his eyes and ears open. Snape called Sirius a coward for staying hidden in his hidey hole, and that incensed Sirius to the point of drawing his wand.
Where do we see Snape at the beginning of the sixth book? At Spinner’s End, reminiscent of 12 Grimmauld Place. And whom does he have for company? Wormtail, loathsome to Snape as Kreacher was to Sirius, an annoying reminder of a hateful past. What does Snape make Wormtail do? Bring elf-made wine. Play the house elf. Clean the house. Does all this sound familiar? Remember when Snape was asking Sirius how the house cleaning was going? And what does Snape take great pleasure in taunting Wormtail with? “I had no idea, Wormtail, that you were craving more dangerous assignments. This can easily be arranged: I shall speak to the Dark Lord -” Why is Snape enjoying so much mocking Wormtail’s cowardice?
Why did Voldemort place Wormtail in Snape’s house to “assist him”? “He has lately taken to listening at doors, I don’t know what he means by it….” Perhaps Voldemort knows how to play emotional chess. The biggest coward of the century, Wormtail, is provided as an “assistant” to Snape. Does Voldemort find Wormtail worthy of Snape? Does Voldemort want Snape to realize that he was given the job of a spy to a coward? Voldemort offering Wormtail as permanent company to Snape is a reminder and an insult. Is Voldemort calling Snape a coward?
I think feelings of cowardice had a lot to do with Snape’s murder of Dumbledore.
“DON’T -” 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!”
I would like to say that Dumbledore begging for his life is the greatest act of moral courage I have yet to see in the books.
It takes great courage to stand defiantly before the threat of death, but I think it takes even more courage for a man like Dumbledore to beg for his life. If Dumbledore is going to beg it is for completely selfless reasons. It is easier to say “fine, kill me” when you forget your responsibilities. Dumbledore is willing to suffer insult for the sake of duty. I can very well see him begging Severus for his life, the way you beg a friend that you desperately want to keep. If he knows Severus’s heart better than Severus knows it himself, he knows that he will strike a chord. Snape murdered Dumbledore because he was afraid of being called a coward by Voldemort, and at that moment Dumbledore showed him what true courage is: not being afraid to look like a coward.
I would kneel before Dumbledore’s example.
After reading the sixth book in its entirety I became convinced that Snape knew of the plan to murder Dumbledore all along, that Voldemort did intend him to do it in the end as an ultimate test of his loyalties. No matter how superb of an Occlumens Snape is, I think Voldemort perceived his feelings for Dumbledore, which were not all hate. Rowling has given us immense insight into Snape’s psychology when she explained why Draco is an excellent Occlumens: he is able to compartmentalize his emotions and shut down compassion. Snape was able to forget his feelings for Dumbledore and focus on his hate. I would not be surprised if Voldemort forced Snape’s hand, not only by pushing him to the limit with Wormtail, but by Imperiusing Narcissa to ask for the Unbreakable Vow. Snape’s face was unfathomable. Perhaps he recognized Voldemort? Then again, it may have been selfless of Snape to make the Vow only to reassure Narcissa who asked it out of desperation… Still, Snape murdered Dumbledore and thus openly declared his allegiance to Voldemort.
Or did he? Maybe Snape murdered Dumbledore only to prove a point to Voldemort, and then he will turn around and betray Voldemort, too.
But in the end what does Snape want? Who is Snape?
Snape’s Half-Blood Prince book revealed a young creative genius with a delicate touch and sense of beauty in potion making, a sense of humor (“shove a Bezoar down their throats”), although a sense of humor that was a bit brutal and contemptuous, and an inventive streak, making spells that varied from nearly harmless (Levicorpus) to murderously bloody (Sectumsempra). Harry hates Snape savagely at the end of the book, but Hermione keeps moderating his conclusions. He says that it should have been obvious how evil the Half-Blood Prince was, and Hermione says “‘Evil’ is a strong word”: “I thought the Prince seemed to have a nasty sense of humor, but I would never have guessed he was a potential killer….” When giving information to Harry about Eileen Prince, Hermione talks about “an announcement saying that she’d given birth to a -” and Harry finishes “- murderer.” Hermione concedes “Well… yes.” Rowling moderates a bit our own feelings by showing the excess of what Harry feels. It does not follow that Snape’s action was good. But it seems that Snape was not necessarily a born murderer.
Snape acted under pressure.
Voldemort did a genius of a job squeezing Snape, and I think Dumbledore, too, had a hand in Snape’s squeezing. I wonder about his judgment when he asked Snape to be a spy. He had protected Snape from the Dark Arts for so long by not letting him teach DADA, and now he was placing him in the midst of the Death Eaters and closer to Voldemort. I think Dumbledore underestimated what being back in the old environment would do to Snape. Or if he trusted him to handle that temptation okay, why didn’t he let him teach his favorite subject? If Snape was subtly taunted by Voldemort because he was playing spy for Dumbledore, I can see Snape’s hatred of Dumbledore growing. We understood Sirius’s resentment towards Dumbledore for instructing him to stay at 12 Grimmauld Place where Snape could taunt him. Similarly, Snape’s feelings grew colder and colder as he became more and more convinced that Dumbledore treated him without consideration when he asked him to be a spy.
I could see Snape, after already making his decision to kill Dumbledore, bringing up the topic of spying in the argument by the forest, saying he no longer wanted to do it, that Dumbledore was taking too much for granted. I am surprised that Dumbledore would say to him that he promised to do it and that is all there is to it. However, if Dumbledore was under pressure he could not handle losing Snape as a spy. Dumbledore put pressure on Snape, and Snape collected one more reason to hate him.
Dumbledore squeezed Snape the way Hermione squeezed the telescope, and he got punched in the eye. It was an effect with a cause. The telescope that we saw more than once in the sixth book symbolizes the spy, and Snape’s attack on Dumbledore is equivalent to the telescope’s attack on Hermione. The difference is that Snape is not a toy but a human being capable of thought, feeling, and independent action. However, Snape’s action may have been as immature as the reflex of a joke shop telescope.
I do think that there may have been an element of self-sabotage in Snape’s telling Dumbledore he no longer wanted to spy. Like Draco botching his murder attempts in a way that showed Dumbledore his heart was not really in it, Snape was getting more restive and arrogant with Dumbledore almost as if to make him trust him less, to give him fair warning. Snape did manage to shake Dumbledore’s trust just a little, I think.
Dumbledore hesitated before saying that he trusted Snape “completely,” before he and Harry went to the cave. He may have been remembering his argument by the forest with Snape. But it could also be that Dumbledore realized at that moment that he had not yet trusted Snape completely, and was making the final decision to do so. It could be that Dumbledore never told Snape about the Horcruxes even when Snape treated his arm, but that after the cave he was going to tell Snape everything… We saw how angry Harry was with Dumbledore for keeping him in the dark and at a distance. If Harry, the person who is supposed to be more filled with love than anyone, was brought to the point of shouting, breaking Dumbledore’s belongings, and wanting to break Dumbledore himself because of the pain he was feeling, what can we expect from Snape, who has the maturity level of a fifteen year old, if he feels that Dumbledore doesn’t care enough about him, that he prefers Harry to him?
Snape betrayed Dumbledore first when he made the Unbreakable Vow. Dumbledore could not accept that Snape made the Vow even after hearing from two witnesses, Harry and Draco. He said: “Of course that is what he would tell you, Draco, but – “Perhaps Snape promised to Dumbledore many years ago that he would never succumb to the Dark Arts again, and he betrayed Dumbledore when he entered the Vow. I think the Unbreakable Vow is a Dark Art. Snape betrayed Dumbledore before he uttered the Avada Kedavra.
Rowling says that Snape is even more culpable than Voldemort because he was loved whereas Voldemort wasn’t. Did Dumbledore love Severus? Rowling showed us Dumbledore switch from Professor Snape to Severus in front of Harry. “Severus.” “I need Severus…” “Severus.” “Severus, please…” The repetition of Snape’s first name was like showing us Dumbledore’s heart open wide. It is at this heart that Severus aimed his killing curse. He aimed a killing curse at a heart that was open to him.
May the memory of Dumbledore’s heart haunt Severus Snape. May the death of Dumbledore bring him to a path of remorse. May it liberate him from all past hatred. May he painfully realize one day what Dumbledore meant by the power of love.