Dumbledore’s Trust in Snape, Part 1: Headmaster and Schoolboy

by D.W. Hill (pentawork@epix.net)

Table of Contents

Introduction: “A Portrait in Subtlety” in Review
Dumbledore: What He Knows and When He Knows It
The Headmaster’’s Biggest Concern: Certainly Not Horcruxes
Seeing Through the Lies: Voldemort’’s Big Mistake

Introduction: “A Portrait in Subtlety” in Review

For the last sixty years of his life, Albus Dumbledore was haunted by the problem of what to do about Tom Riddle; the handsome, extremely bright orphan who grew up to become Lord Voldemort; the most evil wizard of all time. When it became apparent that the affection and respect of his teachers was not sufficient to cause Tom Riddle to abandon his youthful fondness for cruelty, Dumbledore dedicated his life to learning as much as he could about the young man, in an effort to develop a plan to put an end to his murderous ambitions. At some point, around or near the birth of Harry Potter, Severus Snape became part of that plan. With Dumbledore now dead, the trust he invested in Snape has placed the now fugitive in a position to dramatically influence the outcome of that plan.

Throughout the first six books in the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling has shrouded the character of Severus Snape in ambiguity, and fans everywhere have taken the bait. Our first mention of him comes at the start-of-term banquet in Harry’’s first year:

Professor Quirrell in his absurd turban was talking to a teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose and sallow skin.It happened very suddenly. The hooked-nose teacher looked past Quirrell’’s turban straight into Harry’’s eyes, and a sharp, hot pain shot across the scar on Harry’’s forehead.
(PS/SS, 126, American Hardback)

In this small passage, Rowling sets us up to believe that Snape is the villain and somehow responsible for the pain in Harry’’s forehead. Eventually, we learn that it is Quirrell who is trying to steal the Sorcerer’’s Stone, not Snape. The pain in Harry’’s scar is, of course, due to the fact that Voldemort is beneath Quirrell’’s turban.

In Half-Blood Prince, between his final words to Harry, before fleeing from Hogwarts, and after killing Dumbledore, Snape shows us another perplexing aspect of his personality:

““DON’T -”” screamed Snape, and his face was suddenly demented, inhuman, as though he was in as much pain as the yelping, howling dog stuck in the burning house behind them “- “CALL ME COWARD!””
(HBP, 604)

The result of Rowling’’s seemingly inappropriate and out-of-place sympathy for Severus Snape is that readers are left with continued confusion about this enigmatic character. In my editorial “Severus Snape: A Portrait in Subtlety” (posted on MuggleNet 3/3/07), I cited Snape’’s comment to Harry in his first Occlumency lesson that he, Harry, had no subtlety and did not understand fine distinctions, suggesting that this statement was a window into the way JKR gives clues. To develop the idea of the subtleties in Rowling’’s writing, we examined the similarities in Snape’’s handwriting when Harry saw him taking his DADA O.W.L. in OotP, and on the back cover of the Prince’s Potions textbook in HBP, the similarities in the look on Snape’’s face when he kills Dumbledore and the description of Harry, earlier on the same evening, when he was force-feeding poison to Dumbledore, and the qualifying words Snape uses in Harry’’s first Occlumency lesson in OotP, which suggest that he has been lying to Voldemort, and that he is a better Legilimens than we might think.

We saw that Snape’’s murder of Dumbledore –– regardless of Snape’s Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa –– represents the best option, at the time, both for the survival of Draco and Harry, and for the furtherance of Dumbledore’’s plan to defeat Voldemort. I demonstrated that Snape’’s conversation with Narcissa and Bellatrix, in Chapter Two of HBP, is consistent with a good bluff. We examined that conversation closely and saw how Snape uses nastiness to cause them to react in a way which makes them more vulnerable to Legilimency, allowing him to learn several crucial pieces of information. I pointed out many instances in which Snape’’s actions have been more beneficial to Dumbledore than Voldemort, that he is usually right about Harry and that he is the only character with all of the skills necessary to help Harry find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes.

We also saw that Snape’’s general behavior is inconsistent with what he says is necessary for Occlumency — suggesting that he isn’’t as angry or out of control as he seems. I posited that Dumbledore encouraged and supported the nurturing of Snape’s nasty personality, and his schoolboy hatred of Harry’’s father, to protect his cover as a Death Eater, and to provide Harry with incentive to develop defensive skills. We concluded that the evidence –– while insufficient to prove that Snape is loyal to Dumbledore –– does show that he is certainly not loyal to Voldemort.

Thanks to the many readers who posted their thoughts on my first editorial. I was particularly pleased that so many people seemed to take my Nose Hypothesis in the light-hearted, though not entirely frivolous, manner in which it was intended.

In this four-part series, we will continue looking at clues in this subtle way, and I will address some of your concerns and comments. We will look at Dumbledore’’s relationship with Severus Snape and see why he trusts him. We will examine Snape’’s role at Hogwarts, and see him behind the scenes performing Legilimency and other experiments to provide Dumbledore with important information. Finally, we will examine how Snape fits into the plans Dumbledore devised for the destruction of Voldemort after his own death.

Dumbledore: What He Knows & When He Knows It

In order to truly appreciate Snape’’s role in Dumbledore’s plan, we need to understand the relationship between Snape and Dumbledore. Readers of the earlier editorial will know that I do not believe that Dumbledore would participate in an Unbreakable Vow –– the wizard equivalent of holding a gun to someone’’s head. I also don’’t believe that Lily’’s murder, in itself, and Snape’’s interest in revenge, would warrant Dumbledore’s steadfast trust. In short, I believe that Dumbledore’’s trust in Severus Snape has its foundations in Snape’’s days at Hogwarts.

First, we need to know where Dumbledore was in his thinking about Voldemort, at the time Snape came to school. This will enable us to have a clear picture of how the somewhat younger Headmaster saw and related to Severus-the-boy.

Let’s back up to Tom Riddle’’s school days. Here’’s what Dumbledore-the-Transfiguration-teacher observed at the orphanage and at school. Also, we get a look at how he felt about Riddle at the time.

“” …I returned to Hogwarts intending to keep an eye upon him, something I should have done in any case, given that he was alone and friendless, but which, already, I felt I ought to do for others’ sake as much as his…”“…He was already using magic against other people, to frighten, to punish, to control.”

“…In fact, his ability to speak to serpents did not make me nearly as uneasy as his obvious instincts for cruelty, secrecy, and domination.”
(HBP, 276)

“”the young Tom Riddle liked to collect trophies. You saw the box of stolen articles he had hidden in his room. These were taken from victims of his bullying behavior, souvenirs, if you will, of particularly unpleasant bits of magic.”
(HBP, 277)

Next are Dumbledore’’s comments about Tom Riddle’’s years at Hogwarts:

““As he moved up the school, he gathered about him a group of dedicated friends; I call them that, for want of a better term, although as I have already indicated, Riddle undoubtedly felt no affection for any of them. This group had a kind of dark glamour within the castle. They were a motley collection; a mixture of the weak seeking protection, the ambitious seeking some shared glory, and the thuggish gravitating toward a leader who could show them more refined forms of cruelty. In other words, they were the forerunners of the Death Eaters and, indeed some of them became the first Death Eaters after leaving Hogwarts.“Rigidly controlled by Riddle, they were never detected in open wrongdoing, although their seven years at Hogwarts were marked by a number of nasty incidents to which they were never satisfactorily linked, the most serious of which was, of course, the opening of the Chamber of Secrets, which resulted in the death of a girl. As you know, Hagrid was wrongly accused of that crime.”
(HBP, 361-2)

In addition to his suspicions about Tom Riddle, we need to keep in mind that the younger Dumbledore knew about Horcruxes. We know this from Slughorn’’s memory of his conversation with the teenage Tom Riddle:

““People wouldn’’t like to think we’’ve been chatting about Horcruxes. It’’s a banned subject at Hogwarts, you know…Dumbledore’’s particularly fierce about it…””
(HBP, 499)

What does this tell us? It tells us that when Riddle was sixteen –– after killing his father and grandparents, yet before making his first Horcrux –– Dumbledore already knows what Horcruxes are. He knows that they require murder and involve transferring part of the damaged soul to an object. We know Dumbledore knows at least that much because Slughorn knows at least that much. Dumbledore also knows that Tom Riddle is into cruelty, and likes to collect trophies.

Was Dumbledore already reading the Muggle papers as he told Harry he did in GoF? Even if he wasn’’t, the murder of the Riddles would have made news in the wizarding community because a wizard confessed to the crime and was carted off to Azkaban. Dumbledore must have noticed the names of the victims and connected it with his student.

As school began the following fall, Tom Riddle, the poor orphan, was seen wearing an ugly old ring. He has it on in Slughorn’’s office and I doubt that he was concerned about anyone seeing it. Dumbledore, convinced that Tom Riddle had opened the Chamber of Secrets the preceding year, having put together the possibility that Tom had murdered his father and grandparents, as well as knowing that he liked to collect trophies, would have wondered about the ring. Where had a poor orphan acquired such a thing? Perhaps, Dumbledore recognized the Peverell coat of arms. It would have probably taken some time for Dumbledore to find a connection between the Gaunts and Salazar Slytherin. However, even when he did find it, it would not have constituted proof of murder.

So, things are heating up. Dumbledore is more than a little concerned about the ambitions of Tom Riddle, but still has no concrete evidence. This conversation between Harry and Dumbledore is about Dumbledore’s thoughts when Voldemort first applied for a teaching post at the school, at age eighteen:

“”I had advised Armando against the appointment – I did not give the reasons I have given you, for Professor Dippet was very fond of Voldemort and convinced of his honesty. But I did not want Lord Voldemort back at this school, and especially not in a position of power.””
(HBP, 432)

Then Dumbledore and the rest of the staff get the news that bright, handsome Tom Riddle has taken a job at Borgin and Burke’’s. Soon they all learn that he has become a representative sent by the store owners to wealthy witches and wizards to talk them into parting with their treasures.

Next, they learn that Tom Riddle has suddenly disappeared from the shop. Looking back on what has been going on in the wizarding world around the time of Riddle’’s disappearance, Dumbledore notices the death of Hepzibah Smith, an extremely wealthy, old witch. Oddly, her house-elf, Hokey, confessed to poisoning her. Can he help making the connection that Morfin confessed to the Riddle murders and now Hokey confesses to killing her mistress?

When Harry sees Hokey in the Pensieve, he thinks she’’s the oldest house-elf he’’d ever seen, and he’’s already seen Kreacher! Dumbledore says that it was at the end of Hokey’s life that he got the memory from her. I’’m guessing it was during the years that no one heard from Tom Riddle.

The Head Master’s Biggest Concern: Certainly Not Horcruxes

Time goes by with no news of Tom Riddle –– or maybe not quite. Here is what Dumbledore knew and learned at the time Voldemort came back to reapply for a teaching job:

“”Yes, I certainly do know that you have seen and done much since leaving us,”” he said quietly. “Rumors of your doings have reached your old school, Tom. I should be sorry to believe half of them.””Voldemort’’s expression remained impassive as he said, “”Greatness inspires envy, envy engenders spite, spite spawns lies. You must know this, Dumbledore.””

“”You call it ‘greatness,’ what you have been doing, do you?”” asked Dumbledore delicately.

“Certainly,”” said Voldemort, and his eyes seemed to burn red. ””I have experimented; I have pushed the boundaries of magic further, perhaps, than they have ever been pushed -””
(HBP, 443)

“”Let us speak openly. Why have you come here tonight, surrounded by henchmen, to request a job we both know you do not want?””Voldemort looked coldly surprised. ““A job I do not want? On the contrary, Dumbledore, I want it very much.””

“”Oh, you want to come back to Hogwarts, but you do not want to teach any more than you wanted to when you were eighteen. What is it you’re after, Tom? Why not try an open request for once?””
(HBP, 445)

Dumbledore was already suspicious about the Chamber of Secrets, the Riddle murders, the ring and Hepzibah’s missing treasures and to what use Voldemort would put them. We can see by his reaction to Voldemort, when Voldemort came to ask for a job, that Dumbledore knew already Voldemort had delved deeply into the Dark Arts.

If he hadn’’t done it before, Voldemort’’s visit probably motivated Dumbledore to ask Slughorn if Riddle had ever shown any interest in the Dark Arts. Slughorn, now starting to really regret his association with Riddle, confessed that the matter of Horcruxes had come up. Whether Slughorn gave Dumbledore the memory which he had tampered with at this point is not certain.

Voldemort’’s comment that he had pushed the boundaries of magic further than anyone ever had must have made Dumbledore wonder about multiple Horcruxes. However, we have evidence suggesting that this possibility was not likely to be at the forefront of his thinking when Voldemort showed up in his office asking for a teaching post. Here is what Dumbledore tells Harry about his thinking on multiple Horcruxes many years later:

“”But don’’t you see, Harry, that if he intended the diary to be passed to, or planted on, some future Hogwarts student, he was being remarkably blasé about that precious fragment of his soul concealed within it…“The careless way in which Voldemort regarded this Horcrux seemed most ominous to me. It suggested that he must have made – or been planning to make – more Horcruxes, so that the loss of his first would not be so detrimental. I did not wish to believe it, but nothing else seemed to make sense.””
(HBP, 501)

Since we know he didn’’t want to believe it as late as the end of Harry’’s second year when he realized the diary had been a Horcrux, we must assume that he did not dwell on it, at the time of the interview, many years earlier.

Horcruxes were neither Dumbledore’’s only nor his primary concern when Voldemort came to call. Here are his impressions of why Voldemort really wanted to come back to Hogwarts when he applied for a job the first time:

“”I do not imagine for an instant that Voldemort envisaged spending the rest of his life at Hogwarts, but I do think that he saw it as a useful recruiting ground, and a place where he might begin to build himself an army.””
(HBP, 432)

It is this desire to recruit children which concerns Dumbledore the most at the time of the interview. Rowling again points to the possibility of Voldemort, the adult, victimizing children through Lupin’’s comments on the werewolf, Greyback. After all, isn’’t Voldemort worse?

“”Greyback specializes in children… Bite them young, he says, and raise them away from their parents, raise them to hate normal wizards.””
(HBP, 334)

You might ask why then, if Dumbledore was concerned about Voldemort recruiting his students, did Dumbledore allow him to leave his office unescorted? The passage mentions that it was snowing and I am guessing that the meeting occurred over the Christmas holidays and that few students were in the castle. Do we have yet another item for Dumbledore’’s list of “huge” mistakes? Dumbledore’’s failure to escort Voldemort from the castle might have both resulted in Voldemort finding a suitable object to make into a Horcrux and ultimately making Harry’’s job easier. That paradox, however, will have to wait for another essay.

Voldemort’’s job interview with Dumbledore is important for another reason. It happened either shortly before or not long after the Marauders, as well as Snape, arrived at Hogwarts. Dumbledore had only been Headmaster for a short period of time. We can assume this because of three quotes. The first two are from Lupin as he is telling his story in the Shrieking Shack:

““I was a very small boy when I received the bite.””
(PoA, 352)


““Before the Wolfsbane Potion was discovered, however, I became a fully fledged monster once a month. It seemed impossible that I would be able to come to Hogwarts. Other parents weren’’t likely to want their children exposed to me.”“But then Dumbledore became Headmaster, and he was sympathetic. He said that as long as we took certain precautions, there was no reason I shouldn’’t come to school…””
(PoA, 353)

So sometime between when Lupin received the bite as a small boy, and when he arrived at Hogwarts at age eleven, Dumbledore was appointed Headmaster. We can assume from Voldemort’’s comments regarding Dumbledore’s appointment that his visit to ask for the DADA job for a second time was near the beginning of Dumbledore’’s time as Headmaster:

““I heard that you had become headmaster,”” he said, and his voice was slightly higher and colder than it had been. “”A worthy choice.””
(HBP, 441)

Severus Snape came to Hogwarts, presumably as an eleven-year-old boy, with ““I’’m an at risk boy”” written all over him. From Sirius’’s comments that “Snape knew more curses when he arrived at Hogwarts than half the kids in seventh year,” to the descriptions of his greasy hair, the twitchy manner in which he walked, and his greying underwear, it would seem that Dumbledore would have had to notice, and would have made some attempt to both learn more about him and become a positive role model in his life. He would have known that Snape’’s father, a Muggle, and his mother, the former head of the Gobstones Club, were not likely to have introduced him to the Dark Arts.

Dumbledore knew that Voldemort used to enjoy manipulating children both at the orphanage and at school, knew he had some interest in being involved with children as an adult because of his request for the job and was sure he was not adverse to recruiting children.

All of this information –– though sufficient to allow Dumbledore to reach the conclusion that Snape and/or his family were being coerced or manipulated by Voldemort in some way –– did not make it possible for him to extract the boy, Snape, and his family from their predicament. Any threat or hold over them by Voldemort, had to be approached very carefully, so as not to bring down more misery upon the family. The best Dumbledore could do was to ask Snape’’s Head of House to try to take him under his wing and be supportive himself, whenever the situation permitted.

Dumbledore, at some point, may have gently and periodically confronted the boy with his concerns about the company he was keeping, and perhaps, dared to confess –– no doubt, to Severus’’ protests — that he thought he was being hoodwinked. Nonetheless, a boy as unpopular and troubled as Severus Snape was bound to have a little soft spot for someone who took an interest in him.

Severus’ feelings are, no doubt, a tangled mess in general. His feelings about Dumbledore are no exception. When Severus finds out that Lupin is a werewolf, Dumbledore forbids him to tell anyone, and Snape honors Dumbledore’’s wishes, at least until Lupin returns to Hogwarts as a teacher. However, this request and the fact that Sirius, who set Severus up to be killed, was not expelled, add to Severus’’ resentment of the Headmaster.

Seeing Through the Lies: Voldemort’s Big Mistake

We must acknowledge that Voldemort has been meeting some of Snape’’s needs for acceptance and approval, albeit a twisted, insincere acceptance. Over the years, Voldemort has turned Snape against his Muggle father –– probably not a difficult task considering the unpleasant picture we get of Tobias Snape when Harry breaks into Snape’s mind. He would have used examples of what Snape’’s father was like as a person, to turn the boy against Muggles in general. Unlike Dumbledore, Voldemort would have felt no need to be fair-minded, respectful of others’’ opinions, or moral in any way.

Even if Severus or his family were initially blackmailed, or forced in some other way to allow the boy to hang out with Voldemort, there are significant reasons why he would have ultimately gravitated to the dark side anyway. Through his personal experiences with his Muggle father and the Muggle-loving Marauders, Severus came to view Muggles and Mudbloods as a problem. Therefore, Voldemort’’s efforts to get rid of them would have appealed to him. Coupled with his resentment of Dumbledore –– fueled no doubt by a repressed regret that Dumbledore had been too weak or soft to really help him –– Dumbledore’’s fondness for Muggles would have disgusted the young man.

Nonetheless, there was always that little part of Severus Snape that knew the difference between love and manipulation. He was able, however, to talk down any of his personal feelings that Dumbledore was right about his master. Eventually, like Sirius’’ brother, he got in too deep and didn’’t like what he was being asked to do. Voldemort’’s lies got harder and harder to swallow. Then there was the prophecy. He couldn’’t stop himself from telling his master about the first half, but when he realized that Voldemort was willing to kill any babies to whom the prophecy might apply, he came to his senses and returned to Dumbledore. Snape still was not ready, however, to admit how much damage Voldemort had done in his own life, but he couldn’’t support him any longer.

Then as a double agent, when he learned that Lily and her baby were on the hit list, it wasn’’t enough to just warn Dumbledore; he had to attempt to intercede. Voldemort reassured him that it wasn’’t Lily whom he intended to kill.

Soon Lily was dead, Voldemort had lost his powers, and Harry was still alive. Snape knew immediately, what few have ever mentioned, Voldemort did not have to choose between killing Lily and killing Harry. He knew a mother –– at least most mothers –– would do anything to save their child. She wouldn’’t step aside, but he did not have to kill her to immobilize her. Ironically, if Voldemort had stunned Lily, he probably could have killed Harry, because his mother would not have died to protect him. The fruits of Voldemort’’s arrogance lost him his powers, the person whom he believed to be his greatest adversary survived, he suffered an aimless and hopeless existence for thirteen years, and he forfeited the loyalty of Severus Snape.

Snape knew that Voldemort’’s refusal to simply stun Lily to get at and kill Harry, not only reflected how evil he was in general, but showed Snape that Voldemort had never valued him as a person, as he had so long tried to convince himself. It is at this point that Severus Snape, now a young man, truly understands that his childhood had been stolen from him, that his family had been intimidated, and that the Dark Lord’’s professed fondness for him was a lie. It is the knowledge of this understanding which is at the core of Dumbledore’s trust in Snape.

So disillusioned, resentful, and friendless –– except for Dumbledore — he starts teaching at Hogwarts. Next time, we will look at how Snape’’s bitter disposition and extraordinary skills are used to provide Dumbledore with far more than a Potions Master.