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Did Narcissa Really Mean It?

by Kelly Gunzenhauser

After reading HBP, many feel compassion for the Malfoys, and the big debate (other than whether the shipping turned out “right”) is whether Snape is really evil or if he had a pact of some sort with Dumbledore. Something I wonder, though, is whether Narcissa Malfoy was truly laying her cards on the table when she begged Snape to save her son’s life. Is it also possible that Narcissa was instructed by Lucius or by the Dark Lord himself to entrap Snape and thus ensure both his loyalty and Dumbledore’s demise?

At first, this seems like an outlandish theory. What mother would use her son in this way? Wouldn’t any mom do anything she could to save her son’s life? How could all of the emotion not be real? Narcissa does love her son, it seems. Take, for example, this line in SS/PS: “Malfoy’s eagle owl was always bringing him packages of sweets from home” (pages 144-145). Five books later, when Harry and Ron draw their wands on Draco, she threatens them: “Put those away! … If you attack my son again I shall ensure that it is the last thing you ever do” (HBP, page 113). But, in HBP, the last thing Narcissa says before sweeping out of the shop is not about her son’s safety; she leaves because she knows “the kind of scum that shops here” (HBP, page 114). The pureblood principle is very important to her. Narcissa’s love for her son can also be questioned due to the very fact that she chooses to go to Snape rather than defend Draco herself. One has only to compare her to Lily Potter, who sacrificed herself, and not someone else, to protect her son. It is a symbolic difference, as defending Draco herself at Hogwarts may not have been feasible, but it could imply that although Narcissa’s devotion to her son seems great and going to Snape is dangerous for her, maybe she wouldn’t die for her son as Lily did.

Narcissa is under the influence of a husband who would do almost anything to return LV to power, including cause someone else’s child to attempt murder and nearly die herself. Lucius’s greatest irritation when he tweaks Draco about his grades is that a Mudblood has bested him. And, Fenrir Greyback is a “family friend.” Fenrir Greyback is also a werewolf who targets children. These are not signs of a caring parent who loves his son more than he hates Muggles and Mudbloods, but they are signs of someone who would instruct his wife to use their son as bait.

Additionally, it’s strange that Lucius hasn’t broken out of Azkaban. With no dementors guarding the prison, it would seem fairly simple for the Death Eaters to break him out. Even if LV is angry with him, Lucius is surely of more use to LV out of prison. But if Lucius remains in prison (on LV’s orders?) and Narcissa is alone, vulnerable, and able to play her part well, Snape would certainly believe that the crying woman (who was also flattering him for having the Dark Lord’s trust) came on her own accord and not because of an order from her husband or his master.

Several people (Ron, Hermione, Blaise Zabini) express disbelief that the Dark Lord would enlist an unqualified wizard to become a Death Eater. Draco assures the Slytherins by stating, “Maybe he doesn’t care if I’m qualified. Maybe the job he wants me to do isn’t something that you need to be qualified for” (HBP, page 152). But wouldn’t killing the most powerful wizard alive require the killer to be not just qualified, but very skilled, and also practiced in using the Unforgivable Curses? After all, it takes more than just skill to use them; it takes malice. Unless Draco is ultimately used to trick Snape, Draco does seem a poor choice for the job. If LV truly trusted Snape, as Narcissa says, wouldn’t LV himself have asked him to help Draco? Snape is an accomplished Occlumens and trusted by Dumbledore, so why not enlist his help unless Snape, too, is being tested? Draco notably refused to tell Snape about the plan ostensibly because Draco wanted the glory for himself, but he could also have been warned not to tell Snape–to do it on his own–and so he is making up a convenient excuse. The glory doesn’t seem like what the boy crying in the bathroom really wanted.

LV’s instructions are presumably for Draco–and no one else–to kill Dumbledore, so why allow the Death Eaters to come into the school? Perhaps that was part of LV’s plan–even though Snape was kept in the dark, the Death Eaters’ presence and the appearance of the Dark Mark were sure to bring Snape to the melee. Even without the vow, with Alecto, Amycus, et al., standing around watching, Snape couldn’t very well refuse to kill Dumbledore and expect to live. Further, maybe LV relied upon the fact that Draco would probably fail and actually wanted to make sure Snape, and not Draco, ultimately killed Dumbledore. If one of the primary goals was to test or entrap Snape, then catching Snape unawares seems crucial.

This is a complicated plot twist, and a long shot at best. However, having Narcissa act as if LV is going to kill her son in order to trap Snape serves several purposes for the Dark Lord. First, it gets rid of Dumbledore and possibly shuts down Hogwarts to those who are afraid (and to him, unworthy) to attend. Second, it makes Snape Enemy #2 to the Order. Snape can expect to be killed when he sees them again, so LV may hope that he has cemented Snape’s loyalty to the Death Eaters, if only by default. After all, Snape now has nowhere else to go, has extensive knowledge of Hogwarts and Harry Potter, and as we know from the Potions book, is an amazingly talented wizard. LV would be a fool not to want Snape on his side. Narcissa also would stand to gain the restoration of her family’s standing with the Dark Lord, something that is very important to Lucius–and possibly to her as well.

If Narcissa is acting as instructed by LV or Lucius when she goes to Snape, why does Bellatrix try to stop her? Wouldn’t Bellatrix, dear sister, loyal LV follower who longs for her own sons to sacrifice, and former longtime resident of Azkaban, know of this plot? I don’t think so. For one thing, Bellatrix isn’t the subtlest person in the world and can’t be trusted not to blab in the heat of the moment. She barely contains her distrust of Snape and openly questions the Dark Lord’s judgment. Also, LV likes to keep his followers guessing. According to Dumbledore, “You will hear many of his Death Eaters claiming that they are in his confidence… They are deluded.” If LV confides in no one, it makes sense that he also doesn’t tell the same things to many people, preferring to have all of them rely solely upon him for instructions and information. Simply put, Bella doesn’t need to know.

A final thought: JKR uses names as clues. Since OotP, I thought it interesting that Narcissa was the only Black family child not named for a star. Narcissa obviously refers to the narcissus, the flower who in myth grew from a god who could not stop looking at himself. Could it be that Narcissa can’t stop looking at how she and her loyalty are seen by LV? And that leads to my last point. It is interesting that Snape lives in Spinner’s End. What if Narcissa, not Snape, is the spinner, and Snape is the prey in her web? “End” then means goal, not literal end (death), and if Narcissa’s goal was to win over Snape by any means necessary, well, then, she’s done it.