Throughout the Harry Potter series, there’s one character whose loyalty swings like a pendulum after each book. Whose side is he really on? Dumbledore’s or Voldemort’s? He is by far the most enigmatic character throughout the series and perhaps ever crafted. J. K. Rowling managed to keep this one character swinging back and forth for the entire series, right down to the last chapters of the last book. A truly bold and clever move to keep your audience hook right until the end.
But when the final revelation was laid out, did it payoff all the setups? Majority of the fans seem to heartily support this – everything from why Snape despises Harry to how he and Dumbledore managed to manipulate Voldemort until the very end. On the face of it, it’s all very clever and elaborate. But beneath the surface, once all the mysteries have been laid out, one can’t help but wonder at the sheer level of possibilities taken for granted and what else could have happened.
JKR has stated on many occasion that Severus Snape is no hero, or at least, does not fall into the category of classical heroism. Snape is labelled as the anti-hero, a kind whose motives are not as nobly apparent, whose actions, means and methods can be downright reprehensible. But their saving graces tend to be their ends, what their real agendas were and where their loyalty truly laid. In other words, their ends justifies their means… to an extent.
Throughout the works of literature, anti-heroes are often admired for their nonconformity, everyone from raging Achilles in Homer’s Iliad to the vigilantism of Batman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy. Because these anti-heroes are squared off as ‘unconventional,’ they could come in all shapes and sizes and their motives is almost entirely subjective. Achilles is heroic to the Greeks but murderous to the Trojans. Batman is heroic to the people of Gotham but criminal to the GCPD.
THE POTION MASTER
Severus Snape started out as a mere meanie, a hard-nose teacher who picks on particular students solely for the fun of it all. His first introduction as the Hogwarts Potion Master is bombarding Harry with questions about potions that he clearly has no mean of answering. JKR later revealed that the questions he asked implies Snape’s sorrow and regret towards Harry’s mother, the subtlety would only be apparent to botanists.
Towards the end of TPS, Snape has become the trio’s prime suspect for attempting to steal the philosopher’s stone. The alleged evidence being that Snape tried to jinx Harry off his broom during Quidditch and his leg wound from Fluffy, the three-headed dog guarding the trapdoor. By the end, it is revealed that Snape was one of the protectors while Voldemort, who has taken possession of one Professor Quirrell, was the real culprit.
By the time Voldemort has regained his full strength towards the end of GoF, Snape has been revealed to be a former Death Eater, one of Voldemort’s supporter. This change in alliance is solely vouched for by Albus Dumbledore and no one else. Why Dumbledore trusted Snape? That was privilege information only between the two. This one question would be the most pivotal point only revealed towards the end of the last book.
As Severus Snape laid dying from wounds inflicted by Voldemort, he hands Harry his tears containing certain memories. At this point, Snape is known to all as the killer of Dumbledore and Voldemort’s most loyal and trusted servant. Voldemort’s reason for killing Snape has to do with the infamous Elder Wand and its convoluted allegiance.
As Harry peered into Snape’s memories, all is revealed. Starting with Snape and Harry’s mother, Lily Evans, childhood friendship that blossomed into a one-sided romance. Lily Evans, however, preferred James Potter, a show-off and a bully whose preferred target of ridicule was none other than Snape himself.
Another reason for Lily’s rejection has to do with Snape’s fascination with Voldemort’s popular movement with clear intention of becoming a Death Eater. At the time, Voldemort’s movement was in a beta-stage, more active pure-blooded mania than outright terrorizing.
As more revelations poured out, Snape is revealed to be partially responsible for the death of Harry’s parents, having passed on the prophecy made by Sybil Trelawney to Albus Dumbledore which stated that a boy born in the end of July of that year would be the end of Voldemort – i.e. Harry. Having realized that Voldemort would not spare Lily either, Snape pleaded with Dumbledore to help spare her because he still harbored a secret love for her.
Dumbledore and his Order of the Phoenix failed to defend the Potters. Wormtail, also known as Peter Pettigrew, one of James Potter’s childhood friend, has betrayed them and informed Voldemort of the Potter’s whereabouts. Unfortunately for Wormtail, Voldemort did not survive the rebounded killing curse he cast upon the infant Harry. In a desperate need to escape, Wormtail framed Sirius Black as the traitor and a murderer of Muggles before going into hiding. Sirius Black was arrested as sent to Azkaban without a trial while Snape found refuge under Dumbledore’s nose.
Having expressed his regret for his allegiance with the Death Eaters, Snape swore eternal loyalty to Dumbledore and to protect Harry Potter as he grew up in case Voldemort should return. Dumbledore assigned Snape to be a prominent member of the Order of the Phoenix and the Hogwart’s Potion Master.
MURDER LEAST FOWL
At the beginning of the HBP, Dumbledore is revealed to be badly injured in his right hand. As Snape patched up his wound, he informed Dumbledore that the wound is likely to spread at the cost of Dumbledore’s life. The cause of this wound has to do with certain Horcruxes, magical objects containing pieces of Voldemort’s soul with powerful defensive curses.
At the same time, Voldemort has given Draco Malfoy a mission – kill Dumbledore. The order came when Lucius Malfoy, a prominent Death Eater who evaded capture even after Voldemort’s first downfall, failed to retrieve the very same prophecy hidden in the Department of Mysteries. Because Lucius was also apprehended and locked away in Azkaban, Voldemort assigned this mission to his son, Draco, as punishment.
Conveniently enough, at this point, Snape has been successful in playing a double-role of Death Eater and Order of the Phoenix member. Narcissa Malfoy, Draco’s mother, pleaded with trusted Severus Snape to aid her son in every possible way to achieve his mission, swearing him in with an unbreakable vow.
Naturally, as Dumbledore’s death was approaching anyway, Snape and Dumbledore jumped at the opportunity to botch his killing as a sure-fire sign that Snape was Voldemort’s most loyal. The plan worked out like clockwork and no one else was the wiser, even Harry Potter was to be fooled by this ploy.
The final part of Snape’s memory revelation has to do with Harry Potter being a Horcrux himself and needed to be killed off so that Voldemort could be made mortal once again. Harry followed this instruction to the ‘t,’ allowing himself to be killed only to come back to life moments later.
Snape also revealed to Dumbledore, as they were botching his murder, that he has grown to care for Harry, revealing his patronus to be the exact same as those of Lilly, a doe. This is further proven by a patronus doe appearing to aid Harry as the trio were on the run after Voldemort seized the Ministry of Magic. At the time, Severus Snape has been appointed as Headmaster of Hogwarts.
DUMBLEDORE AND VOLDEMORT
As mentioned, the sole reason that Dumbledore trusted Snape is due to Snape’s lifelong affection for Harry’s deceased mother, Lilly, having been partially responsible for her death. The sole proof of this affection is Snape’s patronus in the shape of a doe. Throughout the entire series, this affection has no ground whatsoever unless one is to read through all subtleties and comprehend all possible circumstances.
In all seven books, Snape is portrayed as meanie-leaning-on-villainy, his actions towards Harry being the most telling of his motive. Ever since the first book, Snape has constantly attempted to have Harry expelled from Hogwarts. This is attributed to Snape’s grudge against the bullying James Potter but never explained as to how it would help ‘protect’ Harry. Perhaps he knew that Dumbledore would never allow it to happen and so merely resorted to bullying Harry for the fun of it.
JKR has stated that Dumbledore allowed Snape to teach and abuse students is due to her belief that having a mean teacher is essential to growing up. Although this only served to Harry and us the audience as nothing more than a red-herring to make us question Snape’s loyalty, Snape abusiveness served no real purpose to the plot whatsoever. If anything, it completely contradicts his oath to protect Harry he made to Dumbledore.
Before the doe-patronus revelation, the only proof of Snape’s true motive were Dumbledore’s words while Snape’s action, particularly as a double agent, often worked in contrary. The most telling of this occurs when Narcissa Malfoy and her sister, Bellatrix Lestrange, pleaded and interrogated Snape in his house at the opening of HBP. Here Snape laid out all reasons for his actions and motives, everything from why he took refuge under Dumbledore’s nose rather than loyally suffering in Azkaban as Bellatrix has done, why he did not return to Voldemort right away when he regained his form (he awaited Dumbledore’s go-ahead) and why he has yet to hand Harry Potter or have him killed. The answer was all the same – to fool Dumbledore!
Having appeared to have fooled Dumbledore to the Death Eaters, Snape has also managed to fool Voldemort himself. One of the main cause of his success has to do with Snape’s ability to read minds. With these facts alone, Severus Snape should have elevated from a mere red-herring to either a true hero or a true villain. The problem lied with Voldemort and the pieces of his soul residing in hidden objects, known to him alone.
ONE HALLOWEEN NIGHT
The night that Voldemort went after the Potters, two inexplicable things happened. The first being that the killing cursed rebounded from Harry to Voldemort. The second being that the rebounded killing curse did not fully kill Voldemort. This great set up for a plot were later explained by technicalities.
The first technicality being that the reason Voldemort’s curse rebounded was due to Harry’s mother’s sacrifice in order to protect her son which resulted in a Love/Shield charm. Almost nothing about this is explained aside from the fact that it was old magic which Voldemort has overlooked. Talk about luck!
The second technicality has to do with the horcruxes. The purpose of horcruxes has to do with preserving the remainder of a person’s life should their body be killed off. Voldemort’s obsession with immortality has reached bar none and only he seem have known about it. Dumbledore did find out for a year before he died and only confided in Harry to find them all and eliminate them with Snape’s covertly aiding the trio.
This puts Snape in the most crucial part of the whole plan – he is to play the role of Voldemort’s most loyal all the while aiding trio even without even them knowing. He is to play this role to the last moment.
LOVE CONQUERS ALL
At this point, having killed Dumbledore after living years under his nose and won Voldemort’s approval, Snape has revealed to be the most manipulative character of them all. The big tell being that he harbors a lifelong secret love for Lilly. Why he would have any affection for Lilly, or anyone at all, is neither explained nor deem relevant. This love-revelation reduced Snape, this mind-reader and master manipulator, to a mere lovesick red-herring when, opportunistically speaking, it put Snape as having the most to gain between both Dumbledore and Voldemort.
Since it is never explained why Snape, the mind-reading extraordinaire, would fall in love at all, it could only be assumed that it was a ploy used by Snape to fool Dumbledore since he knew Voldemort’s first downfall was possible, if not inevitable. After all, it was he who passed on the information about the prophecy to Voldemort from Dumbledore himself.
As the book series went on, Snape’s character grew more enigmatic whereas as Voldemort’s character was laid out plain and simple. By then end of HBP, everything one needs to know about Voldemort has reduced him from a ghostly unnameable figure to an orphan who has never known love due to his parent’s loveless marriage. His horcruxes, his secret ploy to immortality was no longer secret to Dumbledore or Harry Potter and thus reduced him to a mere socio-political stooge with his own pure-blood agenda. His whole life was revealed via Dumbledore’s pensive, everything from his family’s descendant to his mother’s mistreatment and manipulation of one Tom Riddle Sr to produce a child only to leave him orphaned has rendered this Darkest Lord of them all more pathetic than terrifying. Harry Potter, and perhaps even Dumbledore, has revealed to have more sympathies than hatred to Voldemort.
HOW SNAPE SHOULD HAVE SNAPPED
The main villain of the entire series was said to be Voldemort, but the true villain should have been none other than Severus Snape. Everything about Snape, from mind-reading to abusiveness to manipulations to spying to flip-flopping and side-switching, spelled villainy. His ability to read minds, though odd and cliched initially, proved to be the crux of his character as he played double-agent.
By far, Snape should have been more than mere agent, he should have been his own agency, manipulating Voldemort and Dumbledore for his own gain. At the beginning of HBP, his titular novel, Snape easily has the two opposing forces in his pocket. Just about the sole reason for siding with one was, rather than strategic, merely sentimental. What Snape could have done was feign his affection for Lilly as a ploy to manipulate Dumbledore who can vouch for him while the reason for Voldemort’s trusting him was laid out in the opening chapters.
Although his affection for Lilly Evans could have been explained by mere childish fancies, her rejection should have had a solid effect on his character. Perhaps her rejection could have embittered him for good, especially how she easily preferred James Potter over him of all people. That could have been the sole reason he needed to mistreat Harry and could easily explain why Snape wants him expelled, if not killed. It made no sense for Snape to keep his word to protect Harry after Dumbledore failed to defend Lilly.
Having gained the trust of both Dumbledore and Voldemort and armed with occlumency, Snape could easily maneuver between the two and even manipulate the two to go after one another. Plan B could have been to kill off one in order to get comfortably close to another, as how HBP should have ended without ulterior motives.
THE DEATHLY HOLLOWS
The Deathly Hollows consisted of three objects – the invisibility cloak, the resurrection stone and the elder wand. These objects came to play a quasi-crucial role towards the end of the series, being the title of the last book. Although this back story goes all the way back to the younger years of Dumbledore and his friendship with one Grindelwald, just about the only reason the hollows, particularly the wand, became relevant was because Voldemort discovered he needed the most powerful wand possible to kill off Harry. Since both their wands share the same phoenix core, somehow they both refused to kill another as should have occurred during their duel in the graveyard at the end of GoF.
Throughout the series, the elder wand was in the hand of none other than Albus Dumbledore, known only to him and Grindelwald, who was locked up in Nurmengard. When Dumbledore was killed off by Snape, the wand was buried with him. According to JKR, “the wand chooses the wizards,” which resulted in a convoluted series of technicalities as to whom the elder wand belonged to towards the end of the last book. The theory goes that he who wields the elder wand shall be undefeated even though throughout the series (and the magical history) those who wielded them ended up dead.
Having acquired the wand from Dumbledore’s tomb, Voldemort believed that in order for the wand to be truly his, he must kill of the last true claim to it, i.e., the one who killed Dumbledore – Snape! Unfortunately for Voldemort, and Snape, it was Draco Malfoy who disarmed Dumbledore just before Snape caste the killing curse. Thus throughout the last book, the elder wand’s true allegiance was Draco Malfoy – until Harry disarmed Malfoy at his own manor once the trio were captured by Snatchers which made Harry the true heir to the wand.
This is proven further by the fact that when Harry sacrificed himself in the forest, he didn’t die – at least not completely having been cursed by Voldemort with the Elder wand itself. Just about the only thing that died was the piece of Voldemort’s soul that resided in Harry. The very final duel also proved the wand’s true allegiance once Voldemort was finally defeated. This also proves that horcruxes can be disposed off by the Elder wand.
Part of the reason JKR introduced the deathly hollows to the series have to with explaining Dumbledore’s younger years and the pure-blood agenda he conjured up with Gellert Grindelwald. Although it was first mentioned in the first book that “the wand chooses the wizard” by Olivander, it was merely an allegory rather than a plot-twisting technicality.
Of the major characters, Snape should have been the one who truly acquired the elder wand, after all he is the only character who never lost a duel – then again, he rarely dueled with other wizards. Dumbledore was disarmed by Malfoy, Harry was constantly disarmed throughout the series, Voldemort was disarmed towards the end while Snape was killed off not by magic so much as a dagger to the neck.
Unlike Dumbledore or Voldemort, or even Harry, Snape had no reason to desire or acquire the elder wand. Dumbledore needed it away from Grindelwald (and anyone else), Voldemort needed it to kill Harry and Harry expressed his desire for it in the series. How Snape learned about the wand was never explained, perhaps by Voldemort himself. If anything, Snape should have a clearest motive for acquiring the wand more than any other characters. In fact, the acquiring of the Elder Wand should have been his true motivation for manipulating Dumbledore and Voldemort – get one of them to kill the other and then kill the remainder.
Snape, the master manipulator, sole purpose for acquiring the wand should have been to kill Voldemort rather than the other way around. Having killed Dumbledore, the wand should have been rightfully his rather than Malfoy, who was none the wiser. In fact, this should be the very reason why Snape should have no qualm with his and Dumbledore’s botched plan to kill the already-dying Dumbledore.
Having acquired the wand and won its true allegiance, taking down the dark lord should have been no problem. Rather than seeing how pathetically Snape was killed off out of mere technicality, it should have been Voldemort dead at Snape’s feet. The sole problem with this plan would be the fact that Voldemort would not die-off completely, since part of his souls still existed in Harry and his snake, Nagini. But with the elder wand in hand, should this have been a problem?
As to that, a partially dead Voldemort could be in no way more powerful than Severus Snape, the mind-reader/master manipulator with the Elder wand. That only leaves Harry Potter left to be dealt with. At this point, with Dumbledore dead and Voldemort partially dead, Snape could have up the ante further and manipulate Harry further into thinking that he was Dumbledore’s agent all along and has been covertly helping Harry dispose of the remaining horcruxes. And to ensure that Voldemort never returns, Snape could kill Harry with the Elder wand, after all, Dumbledore did confide in Snape about the nature of horcruxes and the one residing in Harry Potter.
It should be noted that JKR never specified if horcruxes needed to be killed off in any order. Nagini the snake was the last horcrux to be disposed off by Neville Longbottom with the aid of Gryffindor’s sword whereas Harry’s horcrux was disposed of by Voldemort himself wielding the Elder wand. In fact, anyone with the Elder wand could have disposed of the soul residing in Harry and why should it not be Severus Snape?
SENTIMENT vs STRATAGEM
As fore mentioned, Severus Snape could have easily come out on top had JKR not favoured character’s sentimentality over strategy. In fact, easily all of her characters suffer this same flaw, the biggest culprit being Dumbledore. For all his might and fame as the ‘one wizard Voldemort always feared,’ Dumbledore’s failures sprung about from every corner of the series – the worst case being death of Sirius Black, whose own sentiments also had the better of him.
Voldemort himself suffered from sentiments. Although often stated that Voldemort had no love in his heart when it fact, Voldemort’s biggest infatuation was his own self. Such level of narcissism easily brought the character to his end, allowing any mere manipulative opportunist to feed Voldemort his own vanity. Snape easily could have fit that bill. Whether he actually has done so or not is never revealed, after all, there is only one scene where the two are by themselves – where Voldemort ended up killing Snape.
The favoritism of sentiments over stratagem is hardly accidental. JKR has stated that the themes of the series are all sentimental and romantic themes, such as love, friendship, death, family, etc. Severus Snape ended up being the most romantic character of the series when he should have been the least. Snape’s backstory is hardly one of brilliance. Starting with his one-sided romance with Lilly Evans to his fascination with the Death Eater movement to his shift in allegiance after he found out that Voldemort will be after the Potters and his final vow to defend Harry.
Before these revelations, Snape’s motives were seen as cold and calculating, never in favour of mere sentiments. He even jibed at Harry during the Occlumency lessons in OotP:
Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories and allow themselves to be provoked this easily — weak people, in other words — they stand no chance against [Voldemort’s] powers!
Ironically Snape himself suffered from his own warning when he clearly could have avoided it. It is even more ironic that he should reveal this secret to his success to anyone, and not just anyone – to Harry Potter himself. Perhaps this could be the most telling of them all. Had Snape not confided this secrets to anyone and not favored sentiments over stratagem he could have easily come out on top.
Harry Potter, in contrast, is portrayed as the classic hero. Everything from the prophetic ‘chosen one’ to the dark lord after him to the ‘wise old man’ as his protector and trainer. Almost completely relying on the strategies of others, particularly Dumbledore’s during the last book, he has no strategy of his own. Even when hunting horcruxes, as Dumbledore’s last command, he had no real plan to speak of and the trio ended up spending months after months in hiding.
It is at this point the Dumbledore’s strategy began to work, no less thanks to Snape. Had it not been for Snape aiding the trio by providing the sword of Gryffindor, they might have never moved ahead with destroying any of the horcruxes. It makes it even more jarring then when Harry, the classic hero with no stratagem to speak of, comes out on top over Voldemort, Dumbledore and Snape.
Why JKR favoured sentiments over stratagem is anybody’s guess. Perhaps it makes for better writing, perhaps readers and audience find it easier to relate to characters they can empathize with. Anyone can identify with a suffering character, no one admires a class-A mastermind. When Snape’s revelation was laid out, almost everyone sympathized with bullied and lovesick Severus Snape to the point of forgetting the manipulating, spying and sneering Severus Snape.
Perhaps this is how JKR herself manipulates her readers and her audience. After all, this is the first of several character revelation to come out of left field. The others being Dumbledore’s homosexuality which were nowhere in the books and another twist being how Harry and Hermione should have ended up romantically. Of course no reader has any real gripe with Dumbledore’s homosexuality aside from the fact that it is completely irrelevant. In contrast, quite a large number of reader had something to say about Harry-Hermione being romantically involved, be it in favor or against.
Having started the series at the age of eleven, the Harry Potter books are practically my childhood. I can’t imagine growing up in a world without them and would forever be thankful to JKR for crafting such a wonderful world of magic and mysteries. With every new entry, she managed to up the ante, adding new aspects to this world that no one could have come up with.
I remember identifying with Harry as he was mistreated by the Dursleys and Severus Snape was easily a teacher in my own school. The sheer level of details, from Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans and Chocolate Frogs to Hollows and Horcruxes, this wizarding world is never short of fascinating little details from journeying to Hogwarts or on the run from Voldemort.
By the second book, she has turned this magical world into one of racist and slave-owning pure-blood wizards and incompetent ministry of magic. By book three, there were outcast werewolves, a psychologically torturous prison and a shack so haunted that even ghosts avoided.
Then there were some of the most charming characters, from the hairy and massive Rubeus Hagrid who turns out to be the world’s gentlest half-giant to pure-blood Arthur Weasley and his complete fascination with the muggle spark plugs and the mysterious rubber ducks.
Then there are the series of magic that does more than shoot sparks by reflecting the characters inner beings. From the mirror of erised reflecting the ‘deepest and most desperate desires of your heart,’ to the patronus charm that requires happy thoughts to the ridikulus charm that must be enforced with laughter. Even some of the potions brings out the more fascinating aspects of the characters, be it the Felix Felicis or the love potion taken by Harry and Ron respectively to the most hilarious end.
And who can forget the magical objects that Harry has in his arsenal to match those of Bruce Wayne and James Bond. Aside form his phoenix wand and firebolt broomstick, Harry has his father’s invisibility cloak, the Maurauder’s map, the sneakoscope and a Hedwig.
Of all my dislikes of the series, the fate of Severus Snape comes right at the top and it took me a while to come terms with how it all might have played out. It has been twenty years since the first novel was released where we were introduced to the wizarding world and Severus Snape, with each re-read of the books or re-watch of the films or re-listen to the audiobooks (by Stephen Fry, who did a hell of a job), the fate of Severus Snape continues to give me no rest and, if anything, keeps me hooked to this magical world, perhaps forever.