The Unlikely Phoenix

by Lady Lupin

There is a passage in HBP that awakened a funny little thought in the twisted mind that you know as Lady Lupin. I pondered and stewed and have come to the conclusion that it is a thought worth exploring. If you find it raises your antennae as it does mine, perhaps we can unravel it together.

The points I wish to ponder:

  • Snape’s patronus and boggart would tell us too much and therefore JKR won’t reveal them.
  • Is the nature of Snape’s patronus the reason that Dumbledore trusts him?
  • Is Snape connected to the phoenix?

After Harry blasts Draco with Sectumsempra, Snape appears. Of course he does. Snape: the one person Harry would least wish to see at that moment. However, for Draco’s sake it is probably best that it was Snape – he may be the only person who knows how to halt and mitigate the terrifying effects of Sectumsempra, since he invented it. How he heals Draco’s gaping wounds is what intrigues me. Draco has fallen as though “slashed with an invisible sword” and lies bleeding on the bathroom floor. Harry falls to the ground and Myrtle begins to scream. Snape bursts into the room and sees what is happening. What follows is the description of how he heals the deadly wounds.

“Pushing Harry roughly aside, he knelt over Malfoy, drew his wand, and traced it over the deep wounds Harry’s curse had made, muttering an incantation that sounded almost like song. The flow of blood seemed to ease; Snape wiped the residue from Malfoy’s face and repeated his spell. Now the wounds seemed to be knitting.”
(323, HBP)

Later, Dumbledore must give a blood offering to gain entry into the inner reaches of the cave where the Horcrux was hidden. He cuts himself with a knife and then heals his own arm by passing his wand over the wound he made “so that it healed instantly, just as Snape had healed Malfoy’s wounds.” (561, HBP) Dumbledore does not speak or sing an incantation, yet the result is the same as Snape’s spell.

Snape and Dumbledore both being very accomplished wizards, there may be nothing more to this than Lady Lupin’s overactive imagination. Still, I found myself mulling. The concept that Snape and Dumbledore’s spells are so much alike and, more particularly, that Snape’s incantation sounds like song could be significant. Otherwise, why specifically state that they looked the same to Harry?

The creature most associated with song in the HP books is Fawkes, the phoenix. Phoenix song has come to Harry’s aid and comfort on more than one occasion, and Fawkes is also an astonishing healer, as he demonstrated in CoS:

“But was he dying? Instead of going black, the Chamber seemed to be coming back into focus. Harry gave his head a little shake and there was Fawkes, still resting his head on Harry’s arm. A pearly patch of tears was shining all around the wound – except that there was no wound.”
(321, CoS)

Phoenixes sing and heal wounds, though not necessarily at the same time. Snape’s odd healing spell is unique, in that it reminds Harry of song. Dumbledore calls upon Snape as a healer in the most extreme and dire of circumstances. Could Snape have some connection to the phoenix, and is that connection the reason Dumbledore trusts him? We know Dumbledore has a strong connection to the phoenix. Fawkes is his pet, and according to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, very few wizards have ever been able to domesticate a phoenix. Dumbledore’s patronus is a phoenix. Someone with a strong tie to Dumbledore might express that through a connection to the phoenix. Conversely, a strong connection to the phoenix might be proof of someone’s trustworthiness to Dumbledore. If we theorize that Snape has some connection to the phoenix, or to Fawkes in particular, what is the nature of that connection?

JKR has said that she cannot divulge Snape’s boggart or his patronus, because in doing so, she would tell us too much. Could they be the things that told Dumbledore what he needed to know about Snape’s loyalty?

How is one’s patronus determined? We do not know. Harry’s is clearly connected to James, whose Animagus form was a stag, as is Harry’s patronus (at least up until now). We don’t know what Tonks’ patronus used to be, but it turned into a wolf when she fell in love with Remus. The word patronus seems to indicate a protective figure, and the patronus certainly is that.

If Snape’s patronus is also a phoenix, it would say a great deal about what is deepest in him, as would his boggart. There is a passing line about dementors in HBP that is intriguing when pondering the question of Snape’s patronus. Harry has completed an essay for Snape.

“Harry fully expected to receive low marks on his, because he had disagreed with Snape on the best way to tackle dementors, but he did not care: Slughorn’s memory was the most important thing to him now.”
(448, HBP)

We have looked at this passage before in terms of what the other way to battle dementors might be. However, I have never considered it from another angle: is Snape hesitant to reveal his patronus, and, if so, why? After all, the patronus seems to be the standard way to deal with dementors, though it is advanced magic. It is not OWL level work, for Harry receives extra credit on the DADA OWL for being able to produce a patronus. Since Harry and his mates are studying dementors in their sixth year, it’s probably safe to assume that the patronus is to be found in NEWT level DADA work. Yet Snape doesn’t seem to teach it, or favor it, even though he is teaching his students about dementors.

If Snape were to admit that a patronus is an effective tool for dealing with dementors, he would most likely have to demonstrate the incantation to his class and teach them to conjure one, and that would reveal the nature of his own patronus to his class. The question is from whom would he feel the need to hide it?

If Snape’s patronus were something strongly associated with the Dark Arts, like a basilisk, it seems it would have raised a few eyebrows in the Order. Since the members of the Order of the Phoenix communicate by using their patronuses, the Order members would presumably have seen Snape’s. Patronuses are unique and are used as identifying markers so that Order members can recognize each other’s communications. Therefore, it seems that each Order member must know all the other members’ patronus forms. Of course, Snape might somehow have managed not to have to send his patronus for anyone else to see.

Perhaps Snape only sent it to Dumbledore, and perhaps this particular form of magic, which is so revealing of the heart of its conjurer, is the reason Dumbledore trusted Snape. It seems improbable that Dumbledore would not have known Snape’s patronus, even if the rest of the Order never saw it.

If Snape’s patronus were a phoenix, it would be just like Dumbledore’s. It seems unlikely to me that JKR would write two major characters with the same patronus. Then again, looked at from a different angle, perhaps that is exactly the ironclad reason Dumbledore needed to assess where Snape’s deepest loyalty lay. If Snape’s patronus is a phoenix, he and Dumbledore may have agreed that he would never use it except to alert Dumbledore himself.

If Snape’s patronus is a phoenix (or some other equally revealing statement of loyalty to Dumbledore), he certainly would not want the children of Death Eaters to see it in class, and would find any excuse not to produce one in the presence of any of Voldemort’s followers. Malfoy is in NEWT DADA with Snape. Was Snape hiding his patronus from Draco?

While it’s possible that the reverse is true, and that Snape’s patronus might reveal his loyalty to Voldemort, I find this less likely for the simple reason that I don’t think he could have avoided showing it to Dumbledore. If Dumbledore had seen a patronus that smacked of connection to the dark arts, he would not have trusted Snape.

We have assumed that Snape is called upon to heal the worst injuries and curses because he is so well versed in the dark arts. Could it be, instead, that his special ability to heal wounds that seem beyond repair has to do with some mysterious connection to the phoenix?

Another brief moment struck me as I pursued this idea. After Harry learns from Professor Trelawney that the Prophecy was betrayed to Voldemort by Snape, he charges into Dumbledore’s office in a rage. Dumbledore knows something is wrong, and questions him:

“‘What has happened to you?’‘Nothing,’ lied Harry promptly.

‘What has upset you?’

‘I’m not upset.’

‘Harry, you were never a good Occlumens -‘

The word was the spark that ignited Harry’s fury.

‘Snape!’ he said, very loudly, and Fawkes gave a soft squawk behind them.”
(547-8, HBP)

I almost expected Fawkes to say, “Professor Snape, Harry.” Could it have been an admonishment from Fawkes that Harry was wrong to be angry with Snape? Does Fawkes feel somehow a kindred spirit with Snape? Of course, it is also possible that Harry just woke the phoenix up and his hoot was in response to having his rest disturbed. It’s hard to say, but it was an interesting tidbit to add to that moment.

So, dear readers and fellow fans, tell me… has Lady Lupin finally gone round the pipe? What could the connection be, if there is one, between Snape and the phoenix? It’s counter-intuitive, isn’t it? Snape does not strike one as a person who would have phoenix-like qualities about him, but extraordinary healing capability and song are distinctive features of the phoenix. Snape was called on to heal Dumbledore’s arm, he healed Draco, he was called to help Katie Bell after her encounter with the deadly opal necklace, and Dumbledore said he needed Snape when he and Harry returned from the cave. Notice, he did not call Fawkes to him. Clearly, once Draco burst through the doorway on the Tower, the situation changed and I understand why Dumbledore didn’t call anyone after that. But what about before, in Hogsmeade? He and Harry were, for a time, alone. Why not call Fawkes to himself and be healed? Instead he insists that he needs Severus.

I will confess, though I realize it sounds “barking,” as Ron would say, I even wondered if we’ve actually seen Snape and Fawkes together at the same time. I don’t know that we have, but I have dismissed my fleeting wonder over whether Snape IS Fawkes. It just sounds too preposterous. Still, I think there is some connection, and perhaps the answer lies, not in Snape’s patronus, but in Fawkes’ own assessment of character.

Remember in CoS, when Harry begged for help and Fawkes came to him? What was Dumbledore’s reaction? “You must have shown me real loyalty down in the Chamber. Nothing but that could have called Fawkes to you.” (332, CoS – italics mine)

Perhaps Dumbledore’s ironclad reason for trusting Snape is that Fawkes trusts him. If Fawkes has the power to discern loyalty to Dumbledore, as he seems to have, then Dumbledore could say with certainty who is trustworthy and who is not, merely by checking with the phoenix. If this is true, then perhaps it will be Fawkes who manages to persuade Harry to trust Snape. Could it be that all of our ponderings about Unbreakable Vows and loyalty to Lily are unnecessary complications? Way back in CoS, Jo told us how to discern loyalty to Dumbledore: ask Fawkes. Is it as simple as that?

Whether Snape’s connection to the phoenix is revealed in his patronus, or whether Fawkes himself trusts the provocative Half-Blood Prince, I cannot say. However, I believe that the tiny clues of healing, song-like incantation, Fawkes’ ability to discern loyalty and Snape’s avoidance of revealing his boggart and patronus all suggest that something is afoot. It is one more tantalizing possibility to ponder as we await the excitement of July.