Is Lupin the Only One Who Understands Snape?
Over the course of the series, we see very few scenes with Snape and Lupin together, and yet the complicated and mainly untold story of their relationship never fails to draw my attention. It is not difficult to know what Lupin thinks of Snape since he speaks openly about his feelings to Harry. He is ashamed of never sticking up for Snape in school and grateful to Snape for making him the Wolfsbane Potion. By the time of the sixth book, he declares that he “neither like[s] nor dislike[s] Severus” (HBP 332), which is probably the best that can be expected after all the bitterness of the past.
It’s much more difficult and – in my opinion – more interesting to wonder how Snape feels about Lupin. There is no chance of Snape ever really liking or forgiving Sirius, James, or Pettigrew, but does he forgive Lupin? Could he possibly even respect him?
Most of the interactions we see between Snape and Lupin occur during Harry’s third year when Snape believes that Lupin is helping Sirius Black into the castle. Snape also thinks that Lupin collaborated with Sirius to try to kill him while they were at school. As such, it is perfectly understandable that Snape is cruel and hateful to Lupin all throughout Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Lupin himself understands Snape’s dislike, saying, “He has been telling Dumbledore all year that I am not to be trusted. He has his reasons…” (PoA 356). Snape hears Lupin admit this while hiding under the Invisibility Cloak and also hears Lupin explain that he was not part of Sirius’s joke. Snape still thinks Lupin is helping Sirius, however, and attacks Lupin. He then lets slip that Lupin is a werewolf the next morning. It’s only when Snape learns the whole story about Wormtail that he realizes Lupin can be trusted.
Snape does not even mention Lupin for the next two books, but behind the scenes, Lupin and Snape are forced to interact with each other through the Order of the Phoenix. They both act as spies at great risk to themselves. Lupin, I would imagine, attempts to show Snape respect during these Order meetings. He has forgiven Snape for forcing him to resign, saying, “The news would have leaked out anyway” (HBP 333). He understands that Snape will never like him, but I think he wants Snape to realize that he is no longer the same coward on the sidelines who pretended not to notice while Snape was being bullied.
It is very frustrating to hate someone who treats you with respect, which may explain why the next time we hear Snape obliquely mention Lupin, it is with particular venom. Tonks has just sent her wolf-shaped Patronus up to the castle, and Snape taunts her: “‘I think you were better off with the old one,’ said Snape, the malice in his voice unmistakable. ‘The new one looks weak'” (HBP 160). Snape sees Lupin as weak in this instance because Lupin is too scared to allow himself to be vulnerable by loving someone, and he pushes away the woman he loves because he believes he does not deserve her. Snape can understand this feeling all too well because he behaved the same way with Lily. He hates Lupin at this moment because Lupin reminds Snape of himself.
The moment of truth in Snape and Lupin’s relationship comes in a single instant that Harry sees in Snape’s memories. Before Harry is moved to the Burrow, Dumbledore’s portrait tells Snape clearly, “Severus, if you are forced to take part in the chase, be sure to act your part convincingly… I am counting upon you” (DH 688). Snape, however, ignores Dumbledore’s advice. When he sees a Death Eater poised to attack Lupin, he attempts to use Sectumsempra to chop off the man’s hand but misses and cuts off George’s ear instead.
What compels Snape to try to save Lupin’s life, risking himself and also the entire plan that Dumbledore has created for Voldemort’s defeat? He could easily have stood on the sidelines and done nothing, just as Lupin had done so many years ago, but Lupin is the only person since Lily who has really understood Snape and forgiven him. Lupin sees Snape, understands the way he was ostracized as a child, and feels real remorse for not standing up for him. Lupin also understands Snape’s job as a spy and how isolating that work can be. Snape, in turn, understands only too well Lupin’s difficulty allowing himself to be loved.
Why does Snape leave this memory to Harry in the first place? It is not necessary information for Harry to have, and I don’t believe it’s even meant for him. Snape has no way of knowing that, at that very moment, Lupin is also facing his death in the Battle of Hogwarts. Snape intends for Harry to tell Lupin about this memory because he does not want to die without letting Lupin know that he has forgiven him for the past. Lupin had turned his back on Snape after Dumbledore’s death, and Snape is asking him once again to “look…at…me…” (DH 658).