Spinner’s End: The Psyche of Severus

by Lady Lupin

Since this column is called Spinner’s End, and I have welcomed “all things Severus” to our discussions, I have decided it is time to take another look at the inscrutable Potions-cum-DADA Master. The comments in the Chamber of Secrets forums that The Snape Question has generated are quite fascinating. Like everyone else, I have tried to work out what is driving this most intriguing of Potterverse characters and what might explain his actions and attitudes throughout the series. Scott Andrew Walker’s recent and excellent editorial, Dumbledore’s Iron-Clad Reason gave me a bit of a shock, as I had already put an enormous amount of work into this article, and I thought for a moment that he had beat me to the punch. However, while our ideas overlap and use much of the same evidence, I have a slightly different theory to posit. What follows is a compilation of many of my own theories and several others that I have heard bandied about, but don’t know exactly where they started. I have tried to weave theories together to see if I could arrive at a lifeline for Severus Snape – a history of events, attitudes and desires that would make the disparate pieces of his life add up. I thereby offer a look at the possible psyche of Severus, from his prologue to the Marauder Era through his actions (and Dumbledore’s) in HBP. This is more a narrative than editorial. While I believe it to be backed by canon, there are other explanations for Snape’s behavior that could also be backed by canon. I have attempted to string together the ‘dots’ of fact that we have to arrive at one possible story of the life of Severus Snape. There are as many other potential stories as there are fans and writers. Nonetheless, it explains several burning questions, including whose side Snape is on, and why he does what he does. It is a major read (I’m serious – I have broken my own record here, which is saying something), so grab a Firewhiskey or a pumpkin juice, depending on your age and tastes, put your feet up and enjoy. Without further ado, I give you The Psyche of Severus: A Drama in Five Acts.

[toggle title=”Prologue” state=”open” ]

The Psyche of Severus:

Prologue

Severus suffers in his youth from the curse that most teenagers (and adults) have endured at one point or another: not fitting in. His Muggle father and pureblood Witch mother fought, and home was not a happy place. Through some relation or other resource, young Severus is introduced to the Dark Arts. He is intrigued and finds something that he discovers he doesn’t want to live without: a sense of control. He goes to Hogwarts armed with a defensive personality and a lot of knowledge about curses and hexes for one so young. Severus has learned from watching violent and unsettling scenes between his parents that while love may be a commodity you cannot force someone to give you, there are ways to compel respect. He is sorted into Slytherin House. From what the Sorting Hat tells Harry during Harry’s own sorting, this indicates that Severus, as early as age eleven, possessed not only a heavy dose of survival instinct, shrewdness and cunning, but also the desire to be great. We know from Sirius’ comments in GoF and OotP that Snape was already very well versed in curses and the Dark Arts when he came to Hogwarts. Yes, Sirius was biased. But Sirius’ hatred of the Dark Arts and seeing that very developed tendency in his classmate might have helped create that bias. We know from Harry’s journey into Snape’s OWL memory that he was not popular. We know from his Potions textbook that Harry used in HBP that he was a diligent student who seemed to work hard, not only at improving the potions in Borage’s book, but also (as Sirius indicated) in creating an assortment of hexes and curses that ranged from the mundane to the lethal.[/toggle] [toggle title=”Act I: The Marauder Era” state=”open” ]

The Psyche of Severus:

Act I

The Marauder Era

Imagine if you will that standing at the cauldron next to this hardworking and serious Slytherin is a lovely, redheaded, Muggleborn girl who excels in school, particularly in Potions and, almost certainly, Charms. Not only is she smart and good looking, but she is also friendly, brave, straight-forward and doesn’t take any dragon dung from anybody. Severus wants to detest her for her lack of bloodline and for the unpardonable sin of being sorted into Gryffindor. But she doesn’t rise to his slights and barbs. Either she laughs him off or cuts short his taunts, or she bests him. He must admire her, if only grudgingly. He hears Professor Slughorn praise her to the skies over the years, while he gets an encouraging pat on the back. Yes, he gets excellent grades in Potions, and he is clearly gifted in the subject. But all he hears from Slughorn is Lily, Lily, Lily. He begins to watch the Mudblood work, sees her furrow her brow, looking first into her potions kit and then back at Borage’s book, tapping her wand idly against the table as she reads. A little smile comes to her face as she reaches into her kit and pulls out… mint? Why mint? Severus makes a mental note and continues to follow the book’s instructions. At the end of class, Slughorn gives a curt nod of approval to Severus’ potion and then exclaims in rapture over Lily’s. Mint. Severus makes a note in his potions book and vows to watch the cheeky Gryffindor more closely in the future.

He is mortified one day when she turns to him and whispers, “The clockwise stir comes after every seven counterclockwise. See? It’s lightening nicely, isn’t it?”

He turns away and tries to pretend he wasn’t watching her work. As he glances back she is looking at him, half challenging him and half… encouraging him? She clearly sees through his pitiful ruse. “Go on. Give it a try.”

He can’t believe that she is speaking in this friendly manner to him. After all, he did call her a Mudblood, just last spring. But he was under extreme duress. She seems to have forgiven him, or at least chosen to ignore his insult. She is businesslike. Open and friendly, but not pushy, pleading or simpering, and she doesn’t seem to be covering anything up. She is just… talking to him. As if to say, “Look, I’m a person, you’re a person. Let’s just forget that and try again, alright?” Slowly, he adds the clockwise stir to his potion, and… voila! It lightens. He looks back at Lily, who smiles at him and continues working.

In truth, she had always treated him this way, but he always ignored it. She has never taunted or persecuted him as the Marauders and other students have, and she has stuck up for him on more than one occasion. They always had a friendly, though careful, relationship. Yet he never expected to have a kind word from her again, not after last spring. And, in truth, it’s hard to look her in the eye after that awful day, both because of his own humiliations and because of what he said to her. He is surprised by her apparent willingness to forgive his rude remark, and he becomes even more aware of her work and her personality as weeks go by.

Lily’s intuitive nature intrigues Severus, who has always done things strictly by the book. Severus is brainy, creative and very powerful for a young wizard. But he is controlling of his magic, and very conservative in his approach. Lily’s inventiveness and flexibility is compelling and challenging to him. He begins his own experiments and uses his precious Potions book to chronicle some of his favorites. As he jots down another note in the book one day, (he had seen Lily using an interesting technique to crush her sopophorous bean) he remembers with shame that horrible day at the lake. His face reddens as he sees Levicorpus (nvbl), where he wrote it some years before in the Potions book. (While this is the first year Snape has been in NEWT level potions, he has had the book for years [it was his mother’s], and has been chronicling his experiments and inventions of spells.) Seeing the carefully written incantation for the spell that Potter used against him is a humiliating reminder of that day by the lake. He remembers what he called Lily. He also knows, though, that his own father was a Muggle. That he, himself is a product of a mixed marriage, as are others in his House. No Slytherin speaks of or acknowledges this, and Severus plays up his mother’s background and name in every way he can, in order to escape the taint of his ancestry. He quickly stifles any sense of camaraderie that he may feel with Lily and turns back to what he knows: become powerful enough that you do not need to depend upon anyone else. Survive and prosper through your own talents.

She is impervious to his rejection. She continues to be friendly as always, and Severus begins to soften towards her again. They exchange friendly words in class, and he finds he looks forward to seeing her. He says nothing and has no intention of admitting these feelings, which put him at risk of more hurt and rejection. However, her presence lightens his otherwise frustrating existence, and they have a sort of unacknowledged friendship.

Then, in their seventh year, he sees it: Lily and James, holding hands. He quickly compartmentalizes all feelings associated with Lily (as a good Occlumens is fully capable of doing) and cools towards her in class. Mercifully, Potter seems not to be hexing and cursing him when Lily is around, so he is spared the humiliation of having Lily stick up for him, which has happened more than once. He is back to feeling insignificant and, he discovers to his surprise and chagrin, jealous.

Dark Magic offers power and comfort, and he has a gift for it. It is appreciated in his House, and his abilities get him to a place of some power and respect, if not popularity. His temperament and abilities garner the attentions of a particular set of Slytherins, who begin to speak of the rise of Lord Voldemort. Severus is intrigued, and flattered by the attention. This might be the way to success and acknowledgment. It is in direct opposition to the hated Gryffindors and their ways, which is an added allure. He soon joins the group, and begins to follow Voldemort and aid his goals. His many years of experimenting with the Dark Arts have put him into a strong position to rise up the ranks of Voldemort’s followers, though he is very young. His innate talent for Occlumency and Legilimency help him to sift through the intrigues, plots and lies surrounding him, and he begins to gain confidence in his ability to prosper and rise to a powerful position next to the Dark Lord. He has real talent, and he is a loner, without sentimental connections. Any beginnings of an opening of his heart were quickly locked away when Lily began to date James, and he has kept to his own path ever since. He begins to realize after a short time, though, that it is a slippery slope.[/toggle] [toggle title=”Act II: After Hogwarts” state=”open” ]

 

The Psyche of Severus:
Act II

 

After Hogwarts

Severus sought his own greatness, his own respect. What does Voldemort have him doing? Listening at keyholes, kneeling, bowing and scraping, serving the glory of Voldemort. This wasn’t what he signed on for. He enjoys the power he feels when he had a victim within his grasp, yes. But still, he is a slave, and he has no illusions to the contrary. However, he has seen what happens to those who tried to leave Voldemort’s side, and he doesn’t relish the idea of being found dead in an otherwise unscathed room while Muggle authorities scratch their heads and try to determine a cause of death. Or, worse, to never be found at all, because Voldemort has made sure there is nothing left to find.

He bides his time, considers his options, and follows his orders. His assignments become more and more irksome to him, as he is told to follow Dumbledore around Hogsmeade whenever the Headmaster comes into the village. With his ear pressed to the door of the room into which he saw Dumbledore disappear, Severus hears a ridiculous woman touting her supposed Seer background and skills. He stifles a sigh. This will be another night spent on worthless spying and, again, he’ll have nothing of interest to report to his impatient master. The word rankles with him. That he, Severus Snape, should have a master!

Then, from nowhere, there is a third voice in the room, one that Severus hasn’t heard before: The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…

Suddenly a pair of strong hands grips his shoulders and drags him back from the door demanding to know what he was doing. Severus sputters and says he was lost. The smelly old barkeep laughs and says that doesn’t sound very likely. Severus tries to argue, but the old man isn’t buying it. He tries to break away from his assailant’s grip, but he’s caught fast by this infernal old man and flung through the door of the room as he hears, “… as the seventh month dies…” He is face to face with Albus Dumbledore, and he feels his knees go weak. He knows, from his younger years, that Dumbledore is a powerful Legilimens. He quickly blocks his mind and faces his former headmaster, swearing that he was lost. He searches for the third person, the one who made the astonishing claims about the Dark Lord. But there is no one else present. However, he sees a woman with the shawls and spectacles sway a little on her feet and he realizes it was she. She made a prophecy… a prophecy that said…

He must get back to the Dark Lord. This is surely the most important news he can tell him. Perhaps this will finally lift him out of the lowly outer circles of Voldemort’s followers, and assure that his days of hiding behind garbage cans and listening at keyholes are over.

Dumbledore looks at him searchingly, and wonders what to do with him. Finally he allows him to leave, much to the consternation of the barman. Snape Apparates straight back to Voldemort and tells him everything.

Voldemort is, indeed, grateful to have this alarming information. He immediately sets out to identify and destroy this child. The child will be born the following summer. Death Eaters are sent to learn where in the wizarding world children are expected to be born at the end of July. It is a huge task, but they ultimately find that the Longbottoms and… no… it can’t be… the Potters? James Potter’s child could vanquish the Dark Lord? Snape’s immediate vindictive glee over the possible destruction of the Potter line is short-lived when he remembers to whom James is married.

An unfamiliar and unwelcome feeling begins to creep into Snape’s consciousness, at first fleeting and faint, but growing stronger as days go by: Conscience. The startling green eyes and friendly, non-judgmental attitude of Lily Evans Potter swim in front of him on a daily basis. He begins to gain Voldemort’s trust, and to be given more important tasks. But contrary to making him feel better, this change only serves to drive home to him that he lives by the grace of Voldemort, and that if Voldemort decides he is unworthy, he’ll be dead. He wants out, but cannot see a way, especially since Dumbledore clearly knew that he was spying.

Why did Dumbledore let him go, anyway? It’s hard for Snape to understand. If someone were caught listening to Voldemort through a keyhole, green light would fly quickly and without pause to consider. But Dumbledore let him walk away. Perhaps there would be more freedom after all on Dumbledore’s side. But how to make that transition now, when Dumbledore knows he is a spy?

Voldemort determines to kill Lily and James, as well as Frank and Alice Longbottom, before their children are born. Since one of these couples seems to have some magic that might create such a formidable enemy, all four of them must die before their brats come into the world. Severus is slightly sickened. He hasn’t yet had to kill anyone he cared about. His nerves begin to get the better of him as he imagines every day that he will hear that Lily is dead.

Three times Voldemort tries to kill the Potters and three times they survive. Three times the Dark Lord also makes attempts on the lives of the Longbottoms and three times they escape. Voldemort is angry and suspicious. It almost seems as though the intended victims have been forewarned and given time to escape. He believes that someone must be leaking information, but who is it?

Back at Hogwarts, Dumbledore is intrigued by the anonymous intelligence that arrives at indefinite intervals and by unconventional means. He is warned, six times, of possible attacks, always pertaining to the Potters and the Longbottoms. Meanwhile, scores of others are hunted down and killed by Voldemort and his followers and no notes of warning appear before these deaths. Who is secretly helping the Potters and the Longbottoms? In each case, Dumbledore is given time to intervene and prevent the planned murders. Yet no one has come forward to claim responsibility for the leak. Though he can be certain of nothing yet, Dumbledore has his suspicions. Nonetheless he does not interfere with the Dark Lord and his followers at this stage. Instead, he bides his time and uses this invaluable information to preserve lives.

Lily is delivered of a boy. Severus so hoped it would be a girl, as the Prophecy definitely spoke of a he. But it is a boy. And those irritating Longbottoms had a boy too. And now, with both babies born and healthy, Voldemort is more determined than ever to eliminate his enemy. In fact, the multiple escapes of the Potters and the Longbottoms have fueled his belief in the Prophecy (“born to those who have thrice defied him…”), and he is determined to discover which boy is the threat and kill him. Perhaps he’ll kill both, just to be safe. And, of course, the parents must die too, for causing all of this inconvenience to the Dark Lord. It takes a lot of effort to achieve world domination, and to have to put so much energy into eliminating two couples and their brats is inconceivable. It must be done soon. Snape continues to try to learn the latest plans and to thwart them somehow, without being detected. This is becoming too difficult and too dangerous; to be constantly in the presence of Voldemort and the other Death Eaters… to have to work his Occlumency abilities on a continual basis… And all for James Potter’s son and some brat called Longbottom to whom he has no connection whatsoever? He isn’t even sure why he’s trying to help the Longbottoms, except that they seem connected to Lily somehow, and Snape feels that he must avert the murder of these boys. But it’s becoming easier said than done. Every day brings danger and impossible challenges. Staying alive is an increasingly difficult task. Snape feels ready to snap. Something has to change.

As if providence heard his pleas, he is summoned to Voldemort. The Dark Lord tells him that he has determined that the Potter baby is the threat and will be the first target. Snape’s insides twist. Voldemort says that Snape must get closer to Dumbledore and obtain the position at Hogwarts that Voldemort never was able to claim. He should gain a professorship, and spy on the Headmaster, and learn more about the Potters’ whereabouts and goings on. The multiple escapes have worried Voldemort enough that he fears to strike until he can get inside intelligence from Dumbledore’s camp about who is helping the Potters and the Longbottoms. Snape must work out how to get the job, and how to ensure Dumbledore’s trust.

Snape is at once elated and perplexed. How to win Dumbledore’s trust after the Prophecy? He realizes he has no choice but to try, and that, with Dumbledore, the best strategy will be to tell the truth – or, at least, a great deal of it.

He goes to Dumbledore to seek employment. Dumbledore confronts him directly with the incident at the Hog’s Head. Snape opens his mind – or most of it – to Dumbledore, telling him that he was, indeed, in the employ of Voldemort that night. He repeats exactly what he heard, and he admits to telling Voldemort. He tells Dumbledore exactly why he doesn’t want to be in the employ of Voldemort – how he has been left to mundane and sometimes degrading duties – nothing more than slavery. He gets rewards and punishments as a wayward child might. He is neither appreciated nor respected. He wants out. He tells Dumbledore that Voldemort has focused on the Potter boy. He tells the Headmaster that he is grieved at the outcome of his mission, and he will do whatever he needs to do to make up for his mistakes. He alludes to the warnings that were anonymously sent, disclosing the Dark Lord’s plans against the Potters and the Longbottoms.

Dumbledore considers. It appears that Snape has been helping Dumbledore, by trying to keep both couples safe. But that isn’t enough. Snape’s change of heart may have come for any number of reasons and may just as easily change back. Even if Snape is sincere in this moment, how can he trust him to keep his word as pressure from Voldemort mounts? He tells Snape that he would like to arrange another interview, to give him time to think things over. When Snape arrives for the second interview, he is met not only by the Headmaster, but also an outraged Lily Potter.

Dumbledore has seen a bit more of Snape’s feelings than Snape intended to show him, and has bested his former student by bringing along the one person who can most easily move his conscience. Lily was probably the only person who accepted Snape as he was, without strings or judgment and without any agenda of her own. Now, Dumbledore has told her everything and invited her to help determine the best course to take. James is not present, which is some small relief to Severus. Lily accuses Snape of treachery. He apologizes, and he finds, to his surprise, that he means it. He wants to know what he can do to help.

Dumbledore suggests that he could become a spy for the side of the Order. Snape is wary, but interested. The problem is, says Dumbledore, Voldemort will be on the lookout for such a duplicity, as he has asked Snape to take this very role on his own behalf. Additionally, the allure of the Dark Arts and the possibility of another betrayal must be nullified in some way, so that the Order can, with absolute certainty, trust Snape. They must have a way, a foolproof way, to ensure Snape’s purportedly changed loyalties. Lily says that Snape should take the Unbreakable Vow with her. Snape balks. That is a very serious request! Lily counters that his actions against her son warrant extreme measures. Voldemort will now be after Harry every day of his life. Lily will not be satisfied unless Snape takes an Unbreakable Vow to protect her son and be loyal and obedient to Dumbledore’s leadership from now on. She further demands that, even if she and James, or even Dumbledore, should die in the fight, Snape will do everything in his power to protect Harry and help his cause, as long as Severus and Harry are both alive.

Now Snape feels trapped. He won’t be allowed to leave here unscathed again, if he refuses. At the least, he is sure he’ll be turned over to the Ministry as a spy. And he knows what happens to spies. A lifetime stay in Azkaban is not a welcome prospect. Besides, Voldemort sent him here to get a job. If he fails… Snape shudders at the thought. And if he assents… how can he stay alive while spying on Voldemort? And can he really bear being the protector of James Potter’s son?

Dumbledore offers to be Lily and Severus’ binder. Snape considers. He was looking for a way out from under Voldemort. Voldemort wants him to be a professor at Hogwarts. So, he could convince Voldemort that he is still on his side, and has followed his orders. He asks Dumbledore for the DADA job. Dumbledore counter-offers the Potions position, as Professor Slughorn is retiring. Dumbledore is wary of giving Snape the DADA job, due to the uncertainty of his loyalties at the moment. Besides, Dumbledore has long ago figured out that the DADA job is cursed, and that anyone who takes it will have one year’s employment only. He wants Snape safely ensconced at Hogwarts for far longer than one year. Snape thinks about the life he will have, teaching a new generation of brats, and being under Dumbledore’s thumb. But, at least Dumbledore doesn’t kill people who make mistakes, or expect people to appear before him on their knees. He gives Snape more respect, even now, when Snape is a known enemy, than Voldemort ever did.

Swallowing the bitter pill of aiding James Potter, Snape takes Lily’s hand and swears to protect her son, to work for the Order and to obey and be loyal to Dumbledore. Dumbledore binds them and the deal is made.

Snape keeps Dumbledore carefully informed about Voldemort’s plans and operations. He works with Dumbledore to choose careful “leaks” to give to the Dark Lord, to convince his master of his loyalty and value. These efforts take some months, while trust and a pattern of duplicity are established. Several months later, Snape learns that Voldemort is ready to go after Harry, and he tells Dumbledore. Dumbledore rushes the Potters into hiding and offers to be their Secret Keeper. They insist on using Sirius. Dumbledore assents, and leaves them to put the Fidelius Charm in place, which is Lily’s job – James is a natural at Transfiguration, but Lily is a master at Charms, and has practiced for this moment. Sirius is present and insists that they use Peter. He isn’t sure of Lupin’s loyalties, and no one would suspect Peter. Sirius can continue to provide cover for Peter by perpetuating the ruse that he is the Secret Keeper. The Charm is cast.

Peter turns into a rat, metaphorically if not literally, and tells Voldemort the location of the Potters. Death Eaters are summoned to Voldemort’s side. Snape sends Dumbledore a signal that he is going, races to Hogsmeade, and Apparates to the Dark Lord’s side with the other Death Eaters. Voldemort says that he knows the location of the Potters’ hiding place. He will go tonight to kill the child. Snape feels his peril and Lily’s. How did this happen? Dumbledore said the secret was safe! He suggests to Voldemort that Lily could be very valuable to his cause. Voldemort is unconvinced. After all, he has made three attempts to either kill or control Lily and all have failed. Snape assures him that she is a brilliant potions maker. Voldemort says he has that in Snape. Carefully, Snape pushes Lily’s talents, hoping that Voldemort will spare her and he’ll be able to summon help in time to prevent Harry’s murder. James doesn’t enter his mind.

Lily would be valuable in many arenas, says Snape. She has the absolute trust of Albus Dumbledore and the Order. She is an important and popular member of the wizarding world. She could be kept under the Imperius Curse if need be, and used to further the cause. Her extraordinary talent in Charms and her intuitive creativity could prove valuable tools, especially since she is so completely trusted throughout wizarding society. He convinces Voldemort that Lily’s ability or knowledge, either in Charms, Potions or some other area, is worth trying to acquire, and they decide that Voldemort will put the Imperius Curse on her in order to ensure her cooperation. Snape knows that he cannot outwardly speak against the killing of the Potter baby without arousing suspicion and anger from the Dark Lord. He and some other Death Eaters, all masked and unknown to each other, are given coordinates for Apparation. As the others disappear, Snape sends a hurried message to Dumbledore with the coordinates and follows his master. It is his hope that Dumbledore will be able to send Order members before the boy is killed, or that there will be some way for Snape himself to intervene and save Lily and Harry.

He lands, a few seconds behind the others, in Godric’s Hollow, in front of a modest home. There is light coming from the house, but no one appears to be home. However, the Dark Lord enters while the others wait outside. Then, Snape sees the flashing lights of spells, hears Voldemort’s voice, but he appears to be alone – there is no other voice and no one else present. Then he realizes – the Fidelius Charm. The Potters are inside, he just cannot see or hear them. One flash of green… then another… the Death Eaters wait, uncertain what to do, and Snape cannot send another warning for fear of being caught in the act. He cannot imagine that either of the Potters has cast the Killing Curse, and he holds his breath, waiting to see what happens next. A third jet of green light appears and then seems to tear the house apart. The Death Eaters disperse in a panic, as Muggles begin to see the house coming down, and wonder aloud what is happening to it. They all say how fortunate it is that no one is inside. Snape waits where he is, perhaps under a Disillusionment charm. Silence. There are no more curses flying, and most of the others have gone. Snape knows, in his heart, that Lily is dead. He waits for the triumphant Voldemort to emerge from the ruins, but he does not. Carefully, Snape tries to find his way through the ruins. The Fidelius Charm still protects Harry, and Snape can neither see nor retrieve him. He can, however, see the remains of his master in the twisted rubble. Being unable to see Harry (or, possibly, his parents), he is unsure what happened or who, if anyone, remains alive. He is only certain that the Dark Lord is dead. Though Voldemort bragged that he had secrets to defy death, that he was immortal, his mangled body looks very mortal indeed, to Snape. As the other Death Eaters disperse, a rat scuttles out of the ruins and flees into the darkness. Snape could almost swear the animal held a wand between its teeth… Quickly he Apparates to Hogsmeade and sends another message to Dumbledore.

[/toggle] [toggle title=”Act III: Humble School Master” state=”open” ]

 

The Psyche of Severus:
Act III

 

Humble School Master

After Voldemort’s fall, the wizarding world erupts with joy. People seem to have forgotten that a beautiful, redheaded witch lost her life, evidently protecting her son, according to Dumbledore. Snape spares barely a thought for James, or for the Longbottoms, who meet their fate shortly after the Potters were killed. In fact, he loathes the Longbottom brat as much as the Potter boy. So much trouble these two boys have cost him! And he is bound to Potter’s son forever now. At least he isn’t bound to Longbottom, he thinks maliciously. That is one baby he doesn’t have to care or worry about. But he doesn’t forget Lily, nor does he let go of the Unbreakable Vow. He knows that Lily carefully bound him to her son for life – even in the event of her own death.

Dumbledore tells him that Harry is well protected for the next ten years, by Lily’s special sacrifice and abundant love. Lily’s love goes beyond the specific sacrifice at the fatal moment in Godric’s Hollow. Her love protection began when she demanded protection from Snape, not for herself, but for her son. This mysterious love-induced protection will keep Harry safe for now. With Voldemort defeated, what Severus must do now is reestablish himself as a respectable member of society. His commitment to Harry will come later. Of course, Dumbledore already fears a Horcrux, perhaps more than one. He also fears that Voldemort is not gone for good, but he doesn’t share this with Snape.

Things aren’t easy for Snape. He is branded as a Death Eater. Many want him dead. He is hated by the other Order members, who mistrust and avoid him. Only Dumbledore stands up for him, and he cannot help but know that even Dumbledore’s trust is based on the Vow, and not any real belief in Snape. Then again, Snape himself doesn’t know what to think of his own behavior and situation. He is cleared of all charges, and there is no doubt that it is Dumbledore’s doing. Snape sees the difference between Voldemort and Dumbledore. If he had betrayed the Dark Lord the way he betrayed Dumbledore, he would not be alive. Yet Dumbledore has secured him his freedom and a job. Snape isn’t sure what to think of Dumbledore. He is grateful for the good fortune he has found with the Headmaster, but dubious about Dumbledore’s openness and ability to forgive. Is it a sign of strength or weakness? Severus is undecided.

As much as he has always hated Sirius Black, even Snape is shocked that it was Sirius who betrayed the Potters. It goes to show that he was right about the traitor all along. He feels a perverse sense of justification for all his years of hatred and resentment, and he hopes that Black rots in Azkaban. He sees Sirius as the reason that Lily died, and his hatred for Black takes on a new level of vitriol, even worse than his schoolboy hatred. The subject of Sirius Black is the one thing that can threaten Severus Snape’s austere control. He loses all sense of reason when Black is mentioned. His hatred is absolute.

His teaching years are not exactly what he might have hoped for. Each year, the DADA professor seems to leave for some unknown reason. Each year Severus applies for the post and each year he returns to his Potions classroom disappointed. The students are more foolish than ever. The job is cushy enough… He is safe from most resentful and suspicious eyes. He is well fed and relatively safe. But he is not finding that power and respect that he always longed for.

He uses the small empire of his classroom to force others to bend to his will. He has control over the students, and this he loves. It is the first time in his life when he is the one meting out punishments and rewards, and it gives him satisfaction and an outlet for his fury and frustration over the outcome of his life so far. For ten years, he slogs through his daily responsibilities, trying to be grateful for what he has, and also venting his anger and disappointment on every poor student to cross his classroom threshold.

He is in contact with Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, who also escaped retribution for their contributions to Voldemort’s cause. In fact, Snape is seen as particularly clever by the Malfoys, for having not only escaped Azkaban, but also “duping” Albus Dumbledore.

It is Lucius who first brings up the fact that, like his own son, Draco, the Potter boy will soon start Hogwarts. Snape must keep close watch on him, says Lucius. He might be a very great Dark Lord himself. If so, he’ll need proper control by the right people at an early age. Draco is encouraged to get to know and befriend him, to encourage the boy to seek his destiny in Slytherin. Snape’s insides twist in a way that they haven’t since Lily’s death. His Vow is about to be re-ignited. Who will this boy be, to whom he is bound for life, against his will?

At the welcoming feast that September, Snape is talking to the annoying and obviously incompetent new DADA professor when he looks across the room and sees James Potter. His stomach seems to drop to the floor. He stares, an old hatred forming itself in his heart. The boy looks at him and from across the room he sees Lily’s vibrant eyes, reminding him of his Vow. His hatred swells up and almost overwhelms him. He looks away as the boy continues staring at him.

What sort of punishment is this? He must protect the son of one of his worst enemies, the exact image of the father who used to torment Severus and who was the cause of countless humiliations. And, in case he should forget, or decide that nothing in life is worth bearing that sentence, Lily’s eyes will find him out in the person of her son, and torment him further, reminding him of his promise.

The Sorting Hat takes a long time. Snape thinks… perhaps… perhaps if he is sorted into Slytherin… That would certainly support the idea of his dark powers. And Snape himself could exert more influence over the boy… But it isn’t meant to be. After long consideration, the Hat shouts, “Gryffindor!” And Harry hurries to his new housemates to the sound of thunderous applause. Snape’s insides are turning again, but this time it is resentment, not conscience, that is stirring him.

He follows Lucius’ advice, though and tries to assess this brat. He soon deems (though unaware of or unwilling to see his own prejudices) that Harry is average or even below: a nobody. Not worth saving, not worth sacrificing for… and completely Snape’s responsibility. His outrage over his duty to Harry results in even more vile abuse of poor Neville, who has the misfortune not to be the subject of an Unbreakable Vow on Snape’s part.

He struggles for over three and a half years between his innate hatred for Harry and a desire to cause him every bit of difficulty and pain that he can, and the unwilling but necessary interventions when Harry is in danger, or when Dumbledore deems it is so. Snape comes to his aid, resentfully, when required. And each interaction only hardens his hatred. Still, Lily’s eyes continue to remind him of his vow, and he is not ready to part company with life yet. He does what he must, and looks forward to the day when Harry is a grown man, out of Hogwarts and, hopefully, out of Snape’s life.

Sirius’ escape at the end of Harry’s third year is almost too much for Snape. Not only is Black alive and free, but also he has attached himself to Potter, and the stupid boy has aligned himself with Snape’s worst living enemy.

But at the end of Harry’s fourth year, Snape knows that something even more major is happening regarding the Dark Lord. Dumbledore is cautious, and Snape clearly feels his Dark Mark tingling… sees it getting clearer. Karkaroff knows it too. Snape is careful, as always, and waits to find out what will happen, refusing to give in to panic. As usual, Harry is up to things that he will not tell anyone about. Snape hates this about the boy. How is he supposed to protect him, when Potter is always out of bounds, and the Headmaster allows him to get away with it? Since Potter arrived at Hogwarts, Snape finds himself up at all hours of the night, patrolling hallways and trying to keep tabs on his ungrateful young charge. It’s simply untenable.

Still, year four is a relief. That horror, Moody, is here and seems eager to take over Potter’s protection. Snape is only too happy to oblige and distances himself as much as possible. Still, when his boomslang skin goes missing, his suspicions are aroused, and no one will listen to him. His nerves are strained to the limit while he awaits the outcome of this seemingly endless second coming of the Dark Lord. Then he feels it, during the third task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament – the Dark Mark burns hot, and he knows… Voldemort is back. He cannot get to Dumbledore now, and he doesn’t dare leave the grounds and Apparate away to Voldemort. He waits, strain nearly tearing him apart.

Then Harry and Cedric appear, and pandemonium breaks out at Hogwarts as it becomes clear that Cedric is dead. As Snape and the other teachers attempt to keep order on the grounds, Dumbledore suddenly yells for Severus and Minerva. Harry is missing. Dumbledore has called for Moody, but he is also missing. The Headmaster knows that something is very wrong, and tears off with Minerva and Severus on his heels. They all hear Crouch, Jr.’s Veritaserum-induced confession, and there can be no more room for doubt. Voldemort is back, and Severus has disobeyed a direct order to return to his side. He is now a marked man. And with Voldemort back, Harry’s life will be in ever more grave danger.

When Dumbledore asks him to go back into Voldemort’s service, Snape feels somewhat sick, not to mention resentful. Like so many, he believed that his former master was long gone. While his life was hardly perfect, it was, at least, relatively danger-free. Now, he must Apparate to the Dark Lord – late – and take the consequences. Dumbledore speaks of ‘asking’ Severus to do this, but they both know Severus has very little choice in the matter. He is sworn to obey Dumbledore. He bites back what he would like to say when asked to forgive and forget with Sirius, and strides off to his fate, which he knows will be unthinkable unless he can do a very convincing job of acting.

He comes up with a plausible story for Voldemort – mostly the truth, which helps give it believability. He was caught with Dumbledore, as everyone awaited the end of the tournament. He couldn’t suddenly run to Hogsmeade and Disapparate without losing his cover. And if, as he sincerely hoped, the Dark Lord had risen again, he would need Snape safely placed with Dumbledore more than ever. Snape uses Occlumency, Voldemort accepts his story, and Snape is, once again, a double agent.

The following year is fraught with complications. Voldemort is obsessing about the Prophecy, and blaming Snape for not hearing it correctly. Snape reminds him that he only heard part of it, before being taken away. Voldemort wants the rest. They will go to the Hall of Prophecy and steal the Ministry record. Snape dutifully reports this plan to the Order, which goes into action to protect the Prophecy. The wizarding world ignores Voldemort’s return, Harry is getting harder and harder to control, and Snape knows there is a lot that Dumbledore doesn’t tell him either. Life has, again, escaped his control, and if there is one thing that Severus must have, it is control.

By the end of the year, Snape is exhausted from his careful compartmentalizing of stories and excuses (including navigating Ministry Toady Umbridge), and from the strain of trying to teach hopeless, unbearable Potter to close his mind. But he’s still in one piece and so is Harry. Yes, there is a scare when Harry doesn’t come out of the forest. He waits and waits, hoping to question the boy further. He is certain that he has understood Potter’s mangled message. But Black is fine, safe and sound as usual, in #12 Grimmauld Place, while everyone else risks life and limb for the Order. When the sun goes down and Harry is still not back, Snape begins to realize that others are missing too… Longbottom, the Weasleys, Lovegood… and Granger, who went with Harry into the forest. Surely, they could not have found a way to leave the school? That would not be possible for a bunch of fourth and fifth year students. He hasn’t heard anything from Voldemort either, which is very disconcerting. If there is a plan, he is unaware of it. Finally, he gives in to his suspicions and contacts Order members. Dumbledore orders him to stay put. This is impossible! How is he supposed to protect the boy if he can’t go along?

He does as he is told, and things work out better than he could have hoped. Potter is saved by Dumbledore, Voldemort does not hear the Prophecy, and Black is killed. Jackpot. Snape finishes Harry’s fifth year exhausted, but hopeful that he can continue his ruse and survive.

[/toggle] [toggle title=”Act IV: The Half-Blood DADA Professor” state=”open” ]

 

The Psyche of Severus:
Act IV

 

The Half-Blood DADA Professor

Dumbledore finds and destroys the Ring Horcrux, badly injuring his right hand in the process. He gets safely back to Hogwarts, where he calls on Snape, who saves his life with some unknown spell or potion. Snape does not know about the Horcruxes. Voldemort did not tell the Death Eaters about them. The fact that they “knew the steps” he had taken to avoid death only means that he told them he was invulnerable – that he had taken steps. Not necessarily that he told them what the steps were. If they knew about the Horcruxes, Lucius wouldn’t have been tossing the Riddle Diary around into anyone’s school cauldron. Snape knows a lot of dark magic, though, and he knows that, whatever Dumbledore encountered, it was vicious. Perhaps he suspects something.

Dumbledore has told no one about the Horcruxes either. Snape knows only that Dumbledore is onto something, and that he ran into some very Dark Magic – cursemagic, which nearly killed him. Snape thinks back to Voldemort’s missing years, and to his rebirth. He is an expert in the Dark Arts. He wonders if Voldemort has made a Horcrux.

Dumbledore fully realizes how much danger he is in, as he tries to find and destroy the Horcruxes. He also realizes that the damage to his hand is irreversible. It was squeezing the life out of him like the green potion from the cave until Snape stopped it. Severus cannot reverse the damage, but he manages to stop it from spreading further. He asks the Headmaster what he is doing. Dumbledore tells Severus only that it is a very important task, that it will involve Harry, and that it is the key to bringing down Voldemort. Snape and Lily’s Vow will become more important than ever, warns Dumbledore. There may soon be a time where Snape will need to openly declare his loyalties.

This is a salient point for Snape: if Dumbledore has found something – really found something to turn the conflict around against Voldemort, then Snape’s carefully constructed double life cannot hold up much longer. The danger will escalate tremendously. He will no longer have a safety net and be able to jump from one side to the other. Snape knows that Voldemort’s rule would be a nightmare. He is too intelligent not to see the flaws in Voldemort’s designs, and the limited life that it would offer to the rest of the world, including Snape himself. However, having a foot in both camps is an effective means of giving himself protection. As long as both sides trust him, he has more options. He sees that this luxury may not last much longer.

Dumbledore also makes it clear that he needs Snape’s unquestioned obedience regarding actions that may need to be taken in this cause, now or in the future (much the same promise he elicits from Harry before the trip into the cave), and that, above all, Harry must be protected. He reminds Snape that all of these issues were a part of his Vow to Lily. He must know that Snape will obey orders – all orders – from now on. Dumbledore doesn’t ask Snape to kill him, or make positive plans about when or whether to die. He simply knows, at this point, that he is stacking the cards against himself by going after Horcruxes, and that he may not survive it. He knows that he must do it, regardless of the cost to himself. He feels that it would be impossible to expect Harry to survive the destruction of all of the Horcruxes. The more that he can destroy himself, before Harry faces his quest head on, the better. And Dumbledore still does not know how many there are.

His aim is to protect Harry, teach him everything he can, and bring down Voldemort.Everything else must exist in service of those goals, and everyone must be willing to adhere to them, regardless of the cost. Snape agrees to Dumbledore’s demands of him. He does respect the Headmaster, and he does see the need for Voldemort to be stopped. He, like Dumbledore, sees the escalation of events and the danger. He hates Harry; he hates Harry’s importance in the Wizarding World – the acclaim that has been Harry’s since he was a child. Being compelled to continue to protect him is a hard pill to swallow, but Snape does it. However, he takes sadistic pleasure in making things as hard for Harry as possible. He is torn – at times, his own anger and jealousy get the best of him, and he cannot resist the urge to torment James’ son. He enjoys depriving Harry of the things that mean the most to him. He tells himself that it is for the boy’s own good – that he must be disciplined by someone, since everyone else in the wizarding world seems to want to spoil and pamper him. He sees Harry’s life as charmed and blessed in a way his own never was, and he resents it to his core. Snape is not a happy man. He is mistrusted by people on both sides of his double life. He doesn’t like children and the only joy he finds in teaching is to cause pain and fear. His life is a subtle game of manipulation and survival. Like many miserable people, he finds the idea of someone else finding success or happiness too much to bear, particularly if that person is Harry Potter. Occasionally, Lily still looks at him through Harry’s eyes, and on those rare occasions, Snape controls his loathing. And he never speaks ill of Lily. He reserves his insults and barbs for James, Sirius and Lupin, but Lily’s memory must never be tarnished, even for the pleasure of causing pain to Harry. This is important – why else would Snape not use this obvious tactic to insult Harry? Lily was Muggleborn, a Gryffindor and married to one of Snape’s worst enemies. There is ample ammunition in these facts for Snape to have been making rude and derogatory comments about Lily in Harry’s hearing for the past six years. But he does not. He must have some level of respect or affection for her, or her memory would be used to torment Harry as James’ is.

Dumbledore retrieves Harry, and secures his next stay with the Dursleys so that if anything does happen to Albus this year, Harry will be safe until his seventeenth birthday. He also takes the opportunity to call the Dursleys onto the carpet for their treatment of Harry over the years. He speaks as though he will not see them again, which he realizes is a distinct possibility. With Harry’s help, he manages to get Horace Slughorn to agree to come to Hogwarts. This is urgent, and a very important piece of the puzzle. Slughorn knows something about those Horcruxes, and Dumbledore must find a way to get that information. Otherwise, he has no idea what he is dealing with. He already knows of two Horcruxes, the Diary and the Ring – and he suspects Nagini. The assorted memories he has collected suggest that there could be others. How many more might there be? Slughorn must come to Hogwarts.

Meanwhile, Snape finds himself in the hysterical and hostile company of Narcissa and Bella. Snape does know about the plan for Draco to kill Dumbledore – he is not bluffing. He has already told Dumbledore about the plan, and about his suspicions that Voldemort will expect Snape himself to carry out the deed in the end. Dumbledore has told him that Draco must be protected and prevented from the fate that Snape so narrowly escaped himself. Snape remembers his own early Death Eater days. Draco must be watched, for his own good, as well as Dumbledore’s. Dumbledore says that he, himself, must adhere to his own plans, which have already been set into motion, and that his fate will sort itself out. There is no plan for Snape to murder Dumbledore on the Astronomy Tower. However, there is an understanding that there is a major plot afoot, that Snape’s cover (and therefore his life), Draco’s and his family’s lives as well as Dumbledore’s life are all in danger. That Harry will be in very grave danger, as will the entire cause of defeating Voldemort. They are both on their guard and playing the chessboard carefully.

Snape justifies his choices over the past several years to Bella. His reasoning is convincing, because some of it is true, particularly the part about weighing his options and acting with care after Voldemort’s first fall. He twists and turns each fact to suit his explanations. Perhaps he was, as some readers have suggested, at a convenient place to be able to claim credit among the DE’s for the Vance murder. At each turn, his choice has served his own needs, as well as Dumbledore’s, and given him an escape route, should he need it.

When Narcissa asks Snape to make an Unbreakable Vow, he thinks that he can easily do so without danger. Narcissa is most concerned for Draco’s safety. Snape believes that the Vow will ask him to protect and help Draco. Though Narcissa says to Snape earlier that he could “do it” instead of Draco, right before the Vow her words only indicate that she is seeking protection and aid for Draco. He agrees easily to this. Protecting and helping Draco is exactly what Dumbledore wants him to do. The Vow does not define that “help.” Perhaps to “help” Draco is to get him out from under the DE’s and Voldemort. However, while the Vow is being spoken, Narcissa asks something Snape did not anticipate – if Draco fails, Snape will commit the murder. This unexpected twist causes the slight twitch of his hand, the hesitancy. How can he agree to this? Quite simply, he doesn’t intend to follow through on it. He decides in that moment that he will take the Vow, maintain his cover and the trust of the DE’s, protect Draco for as long as he can, prevent the murder of Dumbledore if humanly possible, and then die himself, if and when the Vow is deemed “unfulfilled.”

How many times has Snape faced death, both as a DE and an Order member? Did he not stand a good chance of being AK’ed by showing up two hours late to Voldemort’s little graveside reunion? Even if he were “Voldemort’s man, through and through,” he has no assurance that the Dark Lord would believe him, or even give him a chance to explain. He could well have been tortured or killed immediately. He went anyway. Has he not watched countless others lose their lives in service of one side or the other of this war? Is he even remotely a happy man who enjoys life? Yes, he is a Slytherin, and, as such, knows how to watch out for himself. But weren’t many of the DE’s who have thrown themselves on the altar of sacrifice for Voldemort also Slytherins? It stands to reason that a great number of the zealots we’ve met were a part of the Slytherin pureblood, Dark Arts crowd. Yet they found a cause that they are willing to die for. What if Snape has simply chosen a different cause than the others? Much like RAB? He isn’t resolved to die, or resigned to fate, but he knows that chances are good that he’ll be killed by one side or the other. He knows he’s now in a treacherous minefield. But, like Dumbledore, he also knows that, though he may not survive, he has to carry on his duty regardless of the outcome.

Having secured Slughorn’s presence at Hogwarts, Dumbledore gives Snape his heart’s desire: the DADA position. Dumbledore knows the job is cursed and that this will most likely be Snape’s last year at Hogwarts. He sees no other choice, given the larger goals. Dumbledore feels the sand running through the hourglass. With all the plans in motion, it’s fair to say that Snape might not be able to retain his cover after this year anyway. Snape is there to spy on Dumbledore. If Dumbledore knows that he is not well, and that his dangers are only beginning, he may feel that Snape will no longer need to teach at Hogwarts to be of use. Voldemort might remove him anyway, should Dumbledore die. I think it might have been somewhere around here that Snape confessed the Unbreakable Vow to Dumbledore. However, just what does Snape confess?

Even if Snape is working for Dumbledore, he might not have told him everything. He would know that Dumbledore would probably forbid him from sacrificing himself. Either way, he told him at least some part of the Vow, and I think Dumbledore gleaned much of the rest. How much does Dumbledore know?

Jo is very devious in how she writes the conversation between Harry and Dumbledore that might touch on the Vow. When Harry shares what he heard while eavesdropping on Snape and Draco, Jo gives us no actual dialogue to illustrate Harry’s story.

“‘Yes, Sir. I overheard them during Professor Slughorn’s party… well, I followed them actually…’Dumbledore listened to Harry’s story with an impassive face. When Harry had finished he did not speak for a few moments, then said, ‘Thank you for telling me this, Harry, but I suggest that you put it out of your mind. I do not think that it is of great importance.'”
(358, HBP)

So what was “Harry’s story?” Harry must have told Dumbledore what he knew of the Vow. It stuck with him enough that he had discussed it with Ron, and knew that an Unbreakable Vow was a big deal. But Harry doesn’t hear the contents of the Vow, other than the fact that it involves Snape protecting Draco. And nothing that Dumbledore hears surprises him. In fact, Dumbledore says that Harry might consider that Dumbledore “… understood more than you did.” It’s one of the few times in the entire series that Dumbledore seems to be losing patience with Harry. Does Dumbledore also understand the corner that Snape has painted himself into? He probably understands it a lot better than Severus. Dumbledore doesn’t say he knows more than Harry. He says he understands more than Harry. Harry has a lot of facts – maybe almost as many as Dumbledore. But he doesn’t understand as much yet.

Hagrid’s evidence after having overheard the conversation between Dumbledore and Snape tells us a bit about the agreement between the two men. Dumbledore is clearly now asking something of Snape that Snape doesn’t want to do. I think this may be where the rest of the Unbreakable Vow came out. Dumbledore probably figured it out, as the logical conclusion to the first two conditions. He might even know that Snape plans to let the Vow do its work by breaking it. Dumbledore reminds him of the promise he made earlier – to protect Harry, to protect Draco, and to put the Order’s cause first, whatever may come. I do not believe any plan was made to meet on the Astronomy Tower for a rendezvous with an AK. It is largely up to Snape to try to stop Malfoy from letting Death Eaters into Hogwarts, and to stop Malfoy from doing something that he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life. Malfoy’s desperate attempts at murder during the year must weigh heavily on Snape, knowing that any one of them could have landed Draco in Azkaban or even have resulted in his death- certainly that outcome would constitute a broken vow on Snape’s part? I think Dumbledore is simply reminding Snape that he still has a big job to fulfill, and that, like Harry, Snape may now be more important to the cause than Dumbledore. He can sabotage Voldemort’s plans and help Harry and the Order, even if he can no longer spy. Snape must remember the larger goal, and serve it, whatever that might mean.

The principal task left for Dumbledore is to destroy as many Horcruxes as possible before one of them destroys him. While he is certainly a very important force against Voldemort, it’s clear to Dumbledore that luck will turn against him, sooner or later. In fact, his very greatness is what will bring his downfall: who else could survive encounters with so many Horcruxes? The task of shortening the distance to victory for Harry must sit on Dumbledore’s strong but elderly shoulders. He is determined to find and destroy all the Horcruxes he can, and there is no one better suited to the job. But he knows that he is failing, and that one or more of the Horcruxes will eventually overcome even his powerful magic. He will not be around to see Harry through to the end of the battle. This is why he is so keen to impart both useful memories and the right perspective into Harry’s mind immediately.

Snape is sensing the impending crisis. Draco is secretive and won’t confide in him. Snape sees in Draco both a young man of extreme privilege (very different from Snape’s background) and a young man who has gotten into a dangerous situation way over his head (very much like Snape’s early DE years). Snape is more in the dark than he wants to be, and doesn’t have his customary iron grip of control over the situation. The idea of dying was one thing when Narcissa asked for the vow. At that moment, he was tired and discouraged, and felt useless and weary of life. But waiting, every day, wondering if he’ll slip up and fail – wondering if, suddenly, without warning, he’ll just drop dead – it’s getting under his skin. And there is Harry, constantly in his face, “The Chosen One.” Lily’s words ring in his ears and she constantly stares out at him from Harry’s eyes.

We hear about Draco’s celebration in the Room of Requirement, because of Harry’s run-in with Trelawney outside the room. But Snape isn’t around. Snape is, evidently, in his rooms, unaware that Draco has succeeded and that the DE’s will be on their way to Hogwarts. Dumbledore and Harry head off to the cave, Horcrux hunting. Before they leave, they have a conversation that is telling. Dumbledore secures a promise from Harry that Harry will obey him no matter what happens. That Harry will run, hide, and even leave Dumbledore behind if he is ordered to. Something Harry doesn’t want to do – just like there was something Snape didn’t want to do… Something that Dumbledore firmly reminded him he had promised. In this case, Dumbledore doesn’t know exactly what awaits them in the cave, but he knows that Harry must survive it. The promises he extracts would cover a variety of situations that may arise, but the end result is the same – Dumbledore charges Harry to put his own safety and the greater cause first, and sacrifice Dumbledore if necessary. If necessary. The same condition that Narcissa places on Snape as a part of their Unbreakable Vow. And, I believe, the same conditions that Lily and Dumbledore put on Snape, lo those many years ago. Snape is desperately trying to prevent these actions from becoming necessary. However, this is becoming an impossible task, as neither of his young charges trusts him in the least. He is always in the dark, yet he has made agreements to prioritize Harry’s and Draco’s safety above all others, including Dumbledore’s.

Several times during the adventure in the cave, Dumbledore mentions that he is not nearly so important as Harry: “…your blood is worth more than mine…” “…I am much older, much cleverer, and much less valuable.” He is careful to take all the risks himself, putting Harry in as little danger as possible, given the circumstances. Does Dumbledore feel the same way about Snape? He has kept Snape safely at Hogwarts all year, and has avoided telling Snape about the Horcruxes, which would put him in further danger. And Dumbledore knows that no one – no one– is better suited to protect Harry. Snape must protect Harry because of his Vow and Snape will have access to plans and information that those who love Harry will simply not know about, because they are not Death Eaters.

Harry gets the Headmaster safely back to Hogsmeade. Before seeing the Dark Mark over the Tower, Dumbledore keeps saying he needs Severus. Only Snape might be able to help him, and time is running out. Again, it’s Snape’s knowledge of the Dark Arts that is useful. If it weren’t for the Dark Mark, Draco, and the scene that followed, Dumbledore would seek Snape, and a cure for his dire condition. The Dark Mark changes everything. Dumbledore freely puts his own welfare aside to come to the aid and defense of Hogwarts, though he may well be dying and have little time left. Clearly, there are worse things than dying, in Dumbledore’s opinion. And one of them is to let Hogwarts fall to Death Eaters.

Professor Flitwick is sent by McGonagall from the battle to alert Snape. In fact, if everything had gone according to Draco’s plan that night, Snape would never have been there. This supports the idea that Snape and Dumbledore did not have a particular plan in mind that was carefully enacted on the Astronomy Tower. In fact, Snape was not supposed to be there at all, and Snape was, evidently, also unaware that Dumbledore might need his help upon returning to the castle.

Hermione and Luna are watching the office. They hear a thump. Snape comes out and sees them, tells them Flitwick passed out and that they should stay with him. Hermione says that Snape must have Stupefied Flitwick, but this isn’t ever confirmed by Flitwick himself. However, something caused him to suddenly fall to the ground, and we’ve never seen Flitwick faint before. Perhaps Snape knows that he is going to meet up with Draco, who may already be hurt or in trouble. He wants to keep as many people as possible out of the fray and so shoots a non-verbal at Flitwick. He also sends the two girls in to help Flitwick. Snape isn’t protecting Flitwick, Hermione and Luna from the battle. He’s protecting Draco from more people who will try to harm or capture him if they catch him fighting against the Order. Snape is fulfilling his Vow to Narcissa. He also wants as few witnesses as possible. If he can manage to pull Draco out of here without losing his cover, he buys more time to find a solution to his quandary. Snape doesn’t hurt Flitwick, nor does he harm Luna or Hermione. He gets them out of his way.

Now Snape comes upon the Order and the DE’s fighting. However, he doesn’t see Draco. Perhaps he knows that Dumbledore was going somewhere tonight, on his own ongoing mission. Maybe he even knows Harry is with him. At this point, Snape thinks that Dumbledore is safely away. He needs only to get Draco out of harm’s way. He doesn’t join in to fight for either side, but stays on task as he has promised – find and protect Draco, try to save the situation and save his cover.

Then he goes through the charm on the door (I think Harry’s right – you need a Dark Mark to get through that door). He gets to the Tower and sees the scenario: Dumbledore, slumped against the parapet, barely standing, gravely ill or injured; Draco, pale and trembling, holding his wand but doing nothing; rabid DE’s all around, waiting to pounce – and two brooms. If Draco could spot that second broom on top of the Tower, I think Snape would.

He hears his name, strides over to Dumbledore, and gazes for a moment at the Headmaster. Snape and Dumbledore are both highly accomplished at Legilimency. If they were working together, it would take only a moment to share whatever they wanted to share with each other. Dumbledore reminds Snape of his promise, that he must protect Harry, Draco and the larger cause; he conveys to Snape how desperately ill he is, and Snape can see that he can’t even try to help the Headmaster in front of these witnesses. He knows Harry is there. His Vows to protect Harry and Draco would be unfulfilled if he allows either of them to be hurt or captured. If he doesn’t kill Dumbledore, his Vow to Narcissa will be unfulfilled. Either way, he’ll die. And what would happen then? One of the other DE’s would surely kill the wandless, flagging Dumbledore. Perhaps Harry would be discovered. Draco would be dragged off to Voldemort for punishment. Snape would die from his unfulfilled Vows. And Dumbledore would still be dead. So, this is it – not a scenario either Dumbledore or Snape had planned or wanted. But, given their mutual goals and responsibilities, with each of them following the course they must follow, this is where they were led. Now, there is only one choice – Dumbledore is dying, will die, from the Potion. I think he is fairly sure of this when he drinks it. He trusts in Snape and his abilities to thwart Dark Magic. But things didn’t work out as Dumbledore planned upon Apparating back from the cave. If Severus had gotten to him immediately, if he were alone and able to work the magic we saw him work on Draco in the bathroom after Harry’s Sectumsempra… But it is not to be. There is no opportunity for such an intervention. Not without sacrificing Snape’s cover and possibly his life, along with Draco – who needs more protection than ever. And Harry is very vulnerable frozen under his cloak. Through a moment of Legilimency, Dumbledore reminds Snape of his promise – protect Draco, put the Order’s cause first, and protect Harry.

Snape is enraged and full of revulsion. He is painted into a corner. Protect Dumbledore, and die with him (and Draco, and Narcissa, and Lucius, and probably Harry…) or kill Dumbledore, give the Malfoys a chance, get everyone away from Harry, and remain in the confidence of Voldemort, where he can work to sabotage. He cannot think of another option and for a brief moment, he is tempted to let everyone die. Dumbledore begs him not to give in to what is easy – giving up – but to be strong and loyal to the cause he agreed to fight for. He hates this position, hates Dumbledore for letting it come to this. He chooses AK because he is incensed and livid – and perhaps because it is quick and has always seemed relatively painless. We always see a victim with a slightly surprised look on his face, but nothing else. If he is to fulfill his promise to Dumbledore, what else can he do? What excuse could he make for NOT killing Dumbledore at that moment, without losing everything, including his life, and the chance of getting everyone off that Tower without Harry getting caught?

As we have discussed before, Harry’s reaction to feeding Dumbledore the potion is almost identical to Snape, just before the Avada Kedavra:

Hating himself, repulsed by what he was doing, Harry forced the goblet back toward Dumbledore’s mouth and tipped it, so that Dumbledore drank the remainder of the potion inside.”
(571, HBP)“Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face.”
(595, HBP)

Jo tells us Harry’s feelings directly – Harry hates himself. She doesn’t tell us what Harry’s face would look like to an outsider. In turn, she tells us what Snape’s face looks like to Harry, but not what he, himself, is feeling. Is Snape’s hatred also for himself?

Snape fires off the AK. The force of it, filled with years of anger, resentment and strain, lifts the fragile Headmaster right off his feet.

Snape flees, making sure to get Draco out safely. He stops Harry from doing any damage, shoots off his insults or instructions, depending on how you look at it. When Snape shouts, “No Unforgivable Curses from you, Potter!” he may be referring to the fact that this is not how Dumbledore (or Lily) would want Harry to behave. That Harry must take a different path. Whether or not Snape fully understands the truth of his statement, I don’t know. But I think he is correct. Unforgivables are not the road to success for Harry. Snape uses his customary, snide sneer when he says it. Can you not see Snape, eaten alive by the fact that he just had to use an Unforgivable, but preciousHarry Potter is too special to be allowed to use one?

Finally, the exchange with Harry, the anger, the pain can all be explained by the idea that this was not planned, AND it was not something Snape wanted to do. It is also something that no one will forgive him for, nor will they believe that he could possibly have had good intentions towards Dumbledore, the Order or their cause. He’s not even certain it was the right decision. Was there another option? Was Dumbledore trying to convey something else? He feels bamboozled by Dumbledore. How will he protect Draco now, and protect Harry? Dumbledore took the exit that was supposed to have been Snape’s and now Snape has to try to live with the brand of Judas. He is livid, unsure and very, very resentful of Harry.

He saves Harry from attack, screams his now famous, pained line, “DON’T call me coward!” and then flees, still bound by the Vow to protect Draco, uncertain if he made the right choice or not, and having just eliminated many of his options for the foreseeable future.

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The Psyche of Severus:
Act V

 

Snivellus on the Run

Snape and Draco go…. Where? To Narcissa? To Voldemort? Into hiding? Snape must continue to try to protect Draco, Harry and the anti-Voldemort cause while maintaining the trust of Voldemort and the Death Eaters. The problem is those goals may soon be in opposition. Protecting Draco might be in defiance of Voldemort, which would end Snape’s ability to infiltrate and sabotage. If Voldemort wanted Draco to kill Dumbledore or lose his own life, then Draco failed and is in big trouble. Protecting him will raise the ire of the Dark Lord against Severus. But taking him straight to Voldemort might result in torture or death for Draco, and Snape would die anyway. And how can he ever protect Harry again, now that the boy believes him to be a traitor and murderer? What’s a greasy git to do?

The fifth act of Severus Snape’s life is being written, even as we wait with bated breath for Book Seven. Do some of the above assumptions dance around or land on some important truths? I believe they do. Yet again… they could be completely wrong, and a virtually opposing story might also fit canon evidence. Such is the appeal of the entire HP series and particularly of our favorite resident of Spinner’s End.

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The Psyche of Severus:
Epilogue

 

Spinner Spun

Regardless of Snape’s loyalties, it seems to me that he is now in a very tight spot. If he did make a Vow to protect Harry, whether to Lily or to Dumbledore himself, he is now being pulled in two directions that may be in complete opposition. Even if his only job is to protect Draco, the path ahead is treacherous and rocky. If he is truly loyal to Voldemort, he may end up racing Harry and trying to protect Horcruxes. If he is trying to protect Harry, his knowledge of the Dark Arts may be the final proof of his loyalty. He may help to find and/or destroy a Horcrux. Or, even more provocative, he may save Harry from a potentially lethal Horcrux curse. After all, this is one of the services he performed for Dumbledore and he also saved Draco from Harry’s Sectumsempra Curse. Might we see these talents again?

In Severus Severed, I said that Snape had spun his web and that either Voldemort or Dumbledore was the unsuspecting victim. But what if that isn’t the case? What if the Spider tripped himself up, and was finally caught in his own web?

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