“I Trust Snape” –– Foolishness or Otherwise?

by M.S.

“I trust Severus Snape.”
It’’s a phrase that has echoed for five books and left us wondering. We waited expectantly for the revelation that we believed was coming –– why did Dumbledore trust Snape? And in the sixth book we finally got an answer – of sorts.

We know now that it was a mistake for Dumbledore to have trusted Snape. We were so sure that there was a good reason for his belief that some of us –– myself included –– were guessing that at some point Snape would not only make his good intentions clear, but drop his bitterness and animosity as well.

After all, as Lupin tells Harry, ““It comes down to whether or not you trust Dumbledore’s judgment. I do; therefore, I trust Severus.”” And we followed right along with this reasoning. After all, over the course of Harry’’s six years of Hogwarts, we had learned to trust Dumbledore too.

So, I think that there are a few questions to be answered here. First of all, why was Dumbledore mistaken in Snape?

The closest we get to an answer to this question seems to be given to us by Snape himself, very close to the beginning of Half-Blood Prince.

“”And through all this we are supposed to believe Dumbledore has never suspected you?”” asked Bellatrix. ““He has no idea of your true allegiance, he trusts you implicitly still?””

““I have played my part well,”” said Snape. “”And you overlook Dumbledore’’s greatest weakness: He has to believe the best of people.””

Snape’’s answer intrigued me from the first time I read it. What does he mean when he says Dumbledore “Has to”? There is, of course, the possibility that Dumbledore really has some sort of inherent weakness, caused either by circumstance or enchantment, that renders him incapable of not seeing the good in others. I tend to doubt that this is the case, however. If Dumbledore was unable to see evil in people, we would be hard-pressed to find reasons for his deep understanding of Voldemort, which is showcased throughout Half-Blood Prince. Dumbledore is very much aware of the magnitude of both Voldemort’’s evil and weaknesses. He is sharply perceptive in dealing with others as well –– like Fudge, for instance. In fact, we get the distinct impression in Book Five that the ministry’’s unhappiness with Dumbledore is based primarily on the fact that he can see right through them. So I don’’t think that Dumbledore is actually unable to see the bad in others.

We can discard the option of Dumbledore’s being foolish almost from the moment it enters our minds. I don’’t think we can have read six Harry Potter books without being under the impression that Dumbledore is very wise indeed.

So where does that leave us? I can think of one more option, and I believe that this is the likeliest. Dumbledore has chosen for himself the path of believing in the inherent goodness of others, and his strength of character doesn’’t allow him to deviate from his ideas, even when they are threatened. I don’’t think that this theory would contradict the fact that Dumbledore is very much able to see the flaws in others. Voldemort never gave Dumbledore reason to trust him or see good in him. To the contrary, Voldemort chose to broadcast his evil. There would be no purpose or greatness in seeking to find goodness in such a person – it would be pure foolishness.

Snape was different. Snape, in his own words, ““spun a tale of deepest remorse when I joined his staff, fresh from my Death Eater days, and he embraced me with open arms.”” Snape approached Dumbledore and appealed to Dumbledore’’s desire to see the good in others –– and he was successful.

So we’’re saying that trust in others is a positive attribute. But we’’re also acknowledging simultaneously the fact that this trust is what led to Dumbledore’’s death, and we spent the whole book leading up to this point –– we see Dumbledore’’s trust mirrored in that of Lupin, Mr. Weasley, and the Hogwarts’ staff. Everyone trusts Snape simply because Dumbledore did, and in the end, everyone was wrong. Where is JK taking us with all of this?

When faced with Snape, Dumbledore had two options –– to trust or not to trust. Dumbledore didn’’t take this decision lightly. When Harry confronts Dumbledore in his office after he discovers Snape’’s role in his parents’’ deaths, he questions Dumbledore once again about his trust in Snape. This time, Dumbledore did not answer immediately.

“Dumbledore did not speak for a moment; he looked as though he was trying to make up his mind about something. At last he said, “‘I am sure. I trust Severus Snape completely.’”

What was Dumbledore considering? It sounds as though he was debating the merits of trusting Snape with himself once more. And again, he decided to trust. Was it an unwise decision?

Snape was a tremendously proficient Occlumens, so much so that neither of the two most powerful wizards alive –– Voldemort or Dumbledore –– could successfully read his mind to ascertain his loyalty. As a result, both of them were mistaken. With the return of his Death Eaters at the end of Book Four, Voldemort declared that Snape had left their ranks forever. Conversely, Dumbledore went on declaring his undying trust in Snape. So Dumbledore was no more wrong than was Voldemort.

I think that we are being faced with the main difference between Dumbledore and Voldemort. If what seems to be excessive goodness is Dumbledore’’s main weakness, Voldemort’s weakness is his lack thereof. While Dumbledore loves too much, so to speak, Voldemort cannot love at all.

Dumbledore’’s weakness, in and of itself, is a powerful thing. The love that feeds trust is the same love that gives Harry his power over Voldemort. And this is what will prevail over Voldemort in the end. Voldemort has no love and no trust – his followers must prove themselves to him. And thus, nobody is truly loyal to him. The Death Eaters cleave him as a result of their fear and their own desires for power and evil.

So I think we can conclude by saying, that even if it was a grave mistake to trust Snape, the fact that Dumbledore could make such a mistake highlights the very strength of character that JK is trying to show us in her heroes. We were led to trust in Dumbledore ourselves, and then we were disappointed. On purpose. Because JK is trying to show us that trust and love, despite the vulnerability that they engender, are the greatest powers of the human spirit, and that ultimately they will triumph in the end.