The Underground Lake #38: What If We’re Wrong?

by Brandon

After completing Book Six, my faith in the loyalty of “The Former Professor” (TFP) was not only unwavering, but I also trusted him more because he killed Dumbledore. I have been the king of the “Snape is still good” fan club. However, those who read my previous editorial may have noticed a more than frequent citation of “Spinner’s End” (Chapter Two, that is). My last reread of Book Six shook me to the core, and I was left with a horrifying thought. I submit for your entertainment and consideration: WHAT IF WE’RE WRONG?

IT SEEMS SO CLEAR…

TFP has been cast as the villain since day one. He and Draco Malfoy have been the two scapegoats and vessels for all frustration, anger, criticism, and derision of our heroes since their relative debuts. Yet by the end of each novel, they are proven to be jerks, but they are jerks ultimately not on the side of evil (well, maybe not so much with Draco, but you get the point). That is, of course, until the end of Book Six.

He did it. We saw him do it. He killed Dumbledore. He took Draco and ran for the hills. And yet we trust him? Why? As I said, I have been the king of the “Snape is still good” fan club. In my interview with him just after the release of HBP, he told me he killed Dumbledore because Dumbledore told him to.

The evidence is in his favor. Having chosen to become a double agent “at great personal risk” (Dumbledore’s words), TFP has been floating back and forth from both sides, absorbing information, and disseminating just enough to satiate each side. He had been put in the position by both sides where he must make decisions that keep him in with each side so that his loyalty is never doubted. He is a skilled Occlumens, so it is taken for granted that the head honchos from both sides won’t be able to read his mind.

Then comes the Unbreakable Vow. He must do everything in his power to protect Draco from harm, and if he should fail in this endeavor, he will die (thus is Magical Contract Law). Therefore, placed in a literal “do or die” situation, TFP finds himself in a scenario in which he must either kill Dumbledore, or stay Switzerland and in turn lead Draco into disaster as he would fail his mission, causing a chain reaction that would then result in TFP’s death. Obviously, since Dumbledore and he had a war of words in the forest in which Dumbledore told him in no uncertain terms that no matter what, he must complete his mission by any means necessary, his killing Dumbledore was a necessary task for the good guys. He must kill Dumbledore to stay in position to do work for the Order and because Dumbledore must die in order for Harry to fight Voldemort (that last part is more archetype and Brandon logic and less JKR necessary plot point).

It is on this basis that everyone trusts The Former Professor. However, as I was rereading “Spinner’s End” for my previous editorial, a horrible thought struck me: “what if we’re wrong?”

IT’S TOO OBVIOUS…

…were the words of my dear friend, and that sentiment is echoed through most fan reactions to TFP. The idea is that if TFP were, in fact, evil, that it teaches us to go with our first impressions, and a character we thought was so complex because he was mean yet working for the good guys is actually evil, thus somehow lacking in dimension. I feel a lot of people would be let down if TFP were evil. It would mean that Harry was right way back when he was eleven. It means that people, fundamentally, don’t change and that “once a baddie, always a baddie.” It would be too obvious for TFP to be evil, and JKR doesn’t do obvious.

May I interject now and say that those aforementioned statements used to be my opinion and are the opinions of many who weigh in on TFP. However, I subheaded this entry, “A Trip to the Bizarro World.” So… what if TFP really is evil?

RON AND HERMIONE

One of the most divisive issues in Harry Potter discussion is, in fact, one of the most trivial: Ron/Hermione vs. Harry/Hermione shipping. JKR has told us since the release of Book Six that it has been pretty dang obvious since Book Three (Book Four for the stragglers) that Ron and Hermione are the couple. Yet there are still Harry/Hermione shippers holding out hope. Frequent readers of mine know my opinion of shipping; needless to say, it bears no significance on this issue. What is significant, however, is the concept of obviousness.

I will admit that in my introduction to Harry Potter in the form of the Sorcerer’s Stonemovie, I believed immediately that it was obvious that Harry and Hermione were going to get together. It made the most sense in film context. Then a funny thing happened. I saw the movie for Chamber of Secrets, and when I reached the end and saw that wonderfully awkward bit between Ron and Hermione, it suddenly became quite clear that it was Ron/Hermione all the way. It was Roger Ebert in his review of Goblet of Firethat said he was shocked to find out from a friend that it was supposed to be Ron/Hermione because the movies make it seem like it’s Harry/Hermione. Indeed, looking at the movies, the obligations of the story require Harry and Hermione to spend a lot of time together alone, which has a reverse effect on the books. Since the books are from Harry’s point of view, we know he has no feelings for Hermione (aside from sisterly affection) since he never “thinks any thoughts” about Hermione. Harry also makes it clear that from his point of view, Ron and Hermione need to get their acts together. Simply stated, it is made abundantly clear early on that the obvious choice – Ron and Hermione together – is the correct choice.

So, why that aside? JKR has shown us before that sometimes the clue to solve the mystery is right in front of your face and you sometimes choose to ignore it. TFP has been set up from his first appearance as an adversary. His presence is met with a foreboding, negative tone that permeates every book. Aside from his treatment of Gilderoy Lockhart, TFP has done nothing to endear himself to the reader or to Harry. Indeed, were it not for Alan Rickman’s delectably evil, yet decidedly “toned down” portrayal, the character would have no redeeming qualities. Why go into this long explanation?

It seems to me that over the course of the books we have been given several instances of TFP doing “evil deeds in the name of good.” On the surface they look motivated by evil and hatred and negative emotions, yet somehow he is always redeemed. In Book One, he does his best to make Harry’s life miserable, but in the end it turns out he was trying to save Harry – not kill him. In Book Three, he busts Sirius and Lupin and before the great Time-Turner switcharoo, positions himself for an Order of Merlin for his capture of the notorious killer, Sirius Black. He refuses to listen to the trio as they tell him of Sirius’ innocence. Motivated by his hatred of Sirius, Lupin and Harry, he ignores the truth and his resolve is concrete. He has a pat answer for his actions, too: Sirius Black is a known killer. He was only doing what any good citizen would do. So what if he hates Sirius? He’s doing his duty.

I would go into all of his actions and rebuttals for Books Five and Six, but why should I when he does it for me? SPINNER’S END!!! In “Spinner’s End”, every question you ever had about TFP is answered logically and succinctly. (To list them all here would be redundant and others have told me that my editorials tend to be lengthy. Therefore, consult your books.) Suffice it to say, all questions and criticisms about TFP from Books One until now are answered by him. The most important question we should be asking is this: what is his motivation to lie?

TO BELLATRIX, WITH LOVE

Bellatrix asks him a series of questions that we, the reader, have always wanted to know. TFP answers each of them in turn logically and believably. Now I ask myself: what is his motivation to tell her anything? Recall that by Bellatrix’s own admission, she has somehow fallen out of favor with Voldemort, and TFP has swooped in as the right hand as he is ideally placed to be of the most use. Because of his position of power, he has no real reason to tell Bellatrix anything. One can argue that he did it to gain Narcissa’s confidence so that she would be at ease. But recall that it is Narcissa who came for the favor, not the other way around. TFP says he knew all along the task set to Draco so he need not give information to Narcissa to get information from Narcissa. So what is his motivation to tell anyone anything? Suppose, just suppose, that he wasn’t lying. Suppose everything he said was true?

Worlds collide if that is the case. And time will tell if it is the truth or not. You might ask me the following: Yes, he could be telling the truth, but why do you think so? My answer is that he cannot be redeemed.

Regardless of TFP’s motivations, he DID kill Dumbledore; there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. He is now totally and completely committed to Voldemort and the Death Eaters. He can never go to the Order and explain himself because they’ll kill him on sight. There is no explanation he can give now good enough to justify the good guys not killing him. The only person who maybe could believe him is Hermione and, on a REALLY good day, Harry. I say this because JKR is notorious for giving “guilty” characters really good explanations for their strange behaviors (i.e. Sirius, Hermione with the Time Turner, Tonks in HBP). However, I cannot see a scenario in which TFP could come up with a sufficient explanation for his actions that will redeem him in the eyes of the trio and the Order. The only scenario I can envision is him risking his life to save Harry in the final confrontation. TFP is going be a hard level for Harry to beat in the final confrontation, but I don’t see TFP making it out of Book Seven alive.

BIZARRO WORLD

I subtitled this entry “A Trip To the Bizarro World” because I am bound to receive a lot of dissension in the ranks after this article. JKR is famous for taking things that are really quite simple and putting the slightest spin on them that causes fans to work themselves into a frenzy looking for a more complicated explanation. When both Sirius and Dumbledore died, everyone went to the craziest, wildest conspiracy theories about how they could still be alive. In both of those scenarios, I was always a part of that minority group that said, “or maybe they really are just dead…” What intrigues me is that I would normally take the simplest route on matters relating to HP, yet I was willing to believe that TFP is/was totally completely innocent and in league with the side of good. I just have to put it out there: suppose the simplest explanation (that he really is evil and on Voldemort’s side) is the right one. This may blow up in my face and be totally off-base, but I’m putting it out there, because we all need to start bracing ourselves for the fact that a lot of folks are gonna die in Book Seven, and I’m positive TFP is one of them. So let’s take a brief trip to the backwards “Bizarro World,” one where Severus Snape is guilty and evil, and Voldemort is preparing for the single greatest plan in the history of the magical world.

Until next time, folks, the wheels are in motion. Tune in for the next entry, “Reprieves and Condemnations.”

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