Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Antagonist

by Melissa Walker

Having recently read and been fascinated by B.J. Texan’s excellent article Machiavelli’’s Half-Blood Prince, my mind started wandering down Snape’’s road: the road that he is on to achieve not Dumbledore’’s ends, not Voldemort’’s ends, but only his own ends (Spinner’’s End?). I really started considering Snape in Machiavellian terms, as the “Severus” of the Romans.

After considering the Machiavelli information, I also began pondering another line of inquiry that is fascinating in terms of Snape. All of the books have at least one major red herring (e.g. Snape/Quirrel, Draco/Riddle, Sirius/Pettigrew, Bagman/Crouch Jr./Mad Eye, Zacharias Smith/Marietta Edgecombe, Slughorn/Snape), and usually several minor ones as well (Harry as the possible heir of Slytherin in CoS, Crookshanks as a possible culprit in PoA, etc.), and our greasy-haired Potions professor set the precedent. (Was anyone not totally convinced on his or her first reading of SS/PS that Snape was the villain?) Rowling has said on more than one occasion that she regards the series as one big, long novel. Considering her love of red herrings, it follows that the series itself contains one big, major red herring.

I propose that, based on the Machiavelli information provided by Texan, and Rowling’s consistent and abundant use of red herrings, that she has intentionally set us up to believe that Voldemort is the main antagonist in the story, while all the time brilliantly laying a foundation for Snape to emerge as the primary antagonist, just as Quirrel did in opposite fashion in SS/PS.

Let’s look at this proposition objectively: Assume Voldemort is the primary antagonist. I mean, of course he is! We’ve known that since day one! He’s the one who went to Godric’s Hollow to kill the Potters and gave Harry his scar, and set the whole story in motion, right? Oh, wait. What happened before that? Trelawney gave the prophecy to Dumbledore, which was conveniently overheard by Snape. Snape gave pieces of this information to Voldemort, sent Voldemort to Godric’s Hollow, which led to Voldemort’s downfall. Hmm. Snape now, not Voldemort, is the catalyst for the action. Snape is equally to blame for the death of Harry’s parents (from Harry’s perspective, if not Dumbledore’s). And Snape has now, in a sense, been responsible for the (albeit unforeseen and temporary) downfall of Voldemort and the murder of Dumbledore, the two most powerful wizards of the age!

So, moving into the present (books 1-6), we see — or rather see the effects of — Snape playing Dumbledore and Harry against Voldemort (most noticeably in 5 and 6), like pawns on a wizard’s chess board. And Snape will continue to play Harry against Voldemort in 7, using each to his advantage as much as possible (to find Horcruxes, etc.), until he can move out into the open. (For illustration, think of that brilliant episode of Lost where Sawyer plays Jack and Locke against each other and steals all the guns. Sawyer is Snape’s handsome-Southern-Muggle twin brother.)

While Harry clearly fears Voldemort, and each book so far has culminated in a showdown with Voldy or his followers, the tension between Harry and Snape is built up even more consistently, subtly, and on a more intimate level. The relationship between Harry and Snape is extremely personal. They see and converse with each other nearly every day. The animosity between them grows so steadily and persistently that it is like a cancer. So while Harry and Voldemort are certainly locked in their own battle by means of the prophecy, Godric’s Hollow, and the terrible incidents that occur almost annually, I maintain that the most primal and vicious grudge that Harry feels is for Snape: Snape who “sicked” Voldy on his parents, Snape who murdered Dumbledore, Snape who never really stopped being a Death Eater, Snape who goaded Sirius out of hiding to his death, Snape who betrayed him as friend in the form of the “Half-Blood Prince,” Snape who has taunted, belittled, humiliated and insulted Harry since he first laid eyes on him at Hogwarts, Snape who represents everything Harry despises. The “big things” are often easier to get over than the innumerable small abuses.

But here’s the clincher: Jo herself stated:

Harry-Snape is now as personal, if not more so, than Harry-Voldemort.”
(July 16, 2005 TLC/Mugglenet Interview; emphasis added)

Structurally, it makes no sense to have a greater conflict between the protagonist and a supporting character rather than the antagonist. Such a conflict detracts from the effect of the story and distracts the reader. I contend that Jo, usually very protective of her secrets, let a major clue slip here. She is a master storyteller and does not make amateur mistakes in story structure. Therefore, if the conflict between Harry and Snape is greatest (“most personal”), then the only logical conclusion is that Harry and Snape must be the protagonist and antagonist, respectively.

I know that this theory is likely to be controversial because it conflicts with all of our previous assumptions. So I have tried to predict what some of the reactions might be, and respond to them now.

  1. I think most will react emotionally: No! You’re wrong! It has to be Voldemort! It’s so obvious that there’s no use even arguing about it!Well, if you have considered my evidence fairly and still believe that, logically, Voldy is the primary antagonist, then you have a right to do so, and I’m sure you will find many others in your camp. However, if you feel this way just because it is a new and different way of thinking about things, then I would ask you to reconsider the evidence open-mindedly. If you are still screaming “No! It can’t be!” just because you can’t handle a different paradigm, no amount of reason or logic will change your mind, and I will not waste my time trying.
  2. The prophecy makes it clear that Voldemort and Harry are fated “either must die at the hand of the other.”I don’t think that the prophecy necessarily contradicts my theory. The story can unravel in a number of ways that will fulfill the terms of the prophecy, get Voldemort out of the way, and leave Harry and Snape both alive and ready to battle it out in the final chapters. I would draw your attention to Rowling’s pattern of double or extremely long climaxes. For example, in PoA, there are two climaxes: the first in the Shrieking Shack, the second, going back in time. HBP also has two climaxes, the first in the cave, the second, on the tower. In OotP the climax is 150 pages long, and goes all the way from Umbridge’s office to the Ministry of Magic. So a double climax — first a showdown with Voldemort, then another showdown with Snape — is not unforeseeable.

While I’’m not willing to bet a sack of galleons on anything yet, this is how I see the end of book 7 playing out: Harry has his big battle with Voldy, wherein Voldy is vanquished (I will make no speculation as to how that will happen, if Harry will kill him, if Tom Riddle will be redeemed, etc.), and I can even foresee Snape helping Harry to overcome Voldemort. (Remember, Snape isn’t on Voldemort’’s side or Harry’’s side, so he can play either side, so long as it’s to his own advantage.)

After Voldemort’s gone, Harry thinks he can start to breathe easily again, and then — POW! — a new battle begins with Snape. Second climax and adrenaline rush for Harry and the reader.

…and…

I have no idea how Harry is going to win that battle because you saw how Snape practically ate him for breakfast at the end of HBP. But, since Harry is our hero, and he’s got lots of smart, talented, and loyal friends, I’’m sure he’’ll prevail, and at least some of the characters will live to move into a better tomorrow.

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