When it comes to Harry Potter, I’ll be the first to admit, I am a huge “shipper.” I love reading about and speculating on the “ships” (the romantic relationships); they give the story heart, and depth, and are generally something that makes me smile and yearn for more. Though I am usually a traditionalist when it comes to “canon ships” (i.e. Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione, Molly and Arthur, etc.), there are elements of “non-canon” ships that intrigue me. Being a moderator in the Corner Booth, Leaky’s Text Chat, I have had the opportunity to share my opinion of these particular ships with other members of Leaky. I’ve shipped Trelawney and Riddle Jr., Dobby and the giant squid, and a handful of other ridiculous ships. However, there is one ship that started out as a joke, and has grown into something much more. It has become something magical, and even believable… something that has taken the Harry Potter fandom by storm. That ship is Severus Snape and Petunia Evans (Dursley), which has been dubbed by the fans on the Leaky Cauldron as “The Unsinkable Ship.” Like the Titanic, another ship that was destined for disaster, this ship seemed to go down by the head before it had an opportunity to prove itself.
“That Awful Boy” 1
I want to ease all you non-believers into this, because I know what your first objection will be: how could Severus Snape (the greasy Death Eater with no morals) possibly get together with Petunia Evans (the uptight, nosy, non-magical sister of a “Mudblood”)? I believe the link to the answer of this question lies in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where Petunia reveals to Harry, Vernon, and Dudley that she heard “that awful boy” talking about the Dementors of Azkaban with Lily “years ago.” 2 The two most common guesses about the identity of the “awful boy” are James Potter or Sirius Black. However, there are a few things that, to me, discount James and Sirius as possibilities. First, Petunia knows James’s name, and has referred to him as both “James” and “Potter” before this point… but never as “that boy” or “awful.” Secondly, since we know of the bond between James and Sirius, there has never been any sort of hint that Lily and Sirius has any sort of friendship that didn’t involve James at some point. I think it’s highly unlikely that Sirius would have gone to Lily’s Muggle parents’ house to talk about Azkaban for any reason. I believe Severus was the boy who was talking to Lily about the Dementors.
To accept this theory, you do have to resign yourself to a certain amount of guesswork, much like Dumbledore did with Harry when trying to account for all the Horcruxes. We must take what we do know and understand, and make the theory work by filling in the blanks. That being said, I have come up with one scenario that I believe is the closest thing to what we will discover is true, which I will describe in this essay.
The Queen of Muggle-isms and the Half-Blood Prince: A Match Made in Heaven?
Not convinced? Need concrete evidence? Let’s leave the world of speculation behind for a moment and enter the world of canon: quotes and hints from our beloved J.K. Rowling herself. I think it is important, when attempting to understand the secrets that are behind this particular pairing, that there is a lot of information between the lines that needs to be analyzed. Rowling has confirmed that Severus has, indeed, been loved by someone, making him “more culpable than Voldemort, who never has [been loved].” 3 Many people speculate that this person who loved Snape was either his mother, Eileen Prince, or Lily Evans. I believe that the people who believe Snape has romantic feelings for Lily are simply misreading the signs. J.K. Rowling has used the phrase “more than meets the eye” during separate interviews when referring to both Petunia Dursley4 and Severus Snape5. I find that to be much more than a coincidence. Also, from what we’ve seen of Snape’s mind, it does not appear that his mother did care much for him. Or, if she did, she wasn’t the only one.
J.K. Rowling has shown us throughout the books that love, or mutual understanding, has spawned from the most unlikely of events. Think back to when you were first amazed that Tonks had fallen in love with Remus Lupin, not Sirius Black as Harry had speculated.6 There was also a quaint little scene in the girls’ bathroom on the second floor when Draco was crying his eyes out and showing his most sensitive, most vulnerable side to Moaning Myrtle.7 I envision the same sort of thing happened between Severus and Petunia: there were events that took place, cosmic if you will, that drew them together and each of them was able to help the other out of a tough time. Let me paint a picture for you: Severus is a greasy git with ambition but no drive while his classmate, Lily, is one of the brightest witches of her age. Petunia, too, is living in Lily’s shadow… not at school, but at home. If they were to somehow meet up, to commiserate about how difficult Lily has made each of their lives, wouldn’t this be a common thread between the beginning of this relationship and the beginning of other relationships we’ve seen in this series? It’s an odd coincidence that Lily, someone we’ve seen as “good” all this time, has made adolescent life so difficult for two people who have been perceived as “evil.” It’s possible that we have two people who are lost in the world of hormones and hatred, who haven’t been able to get over the musings of their adolescence to live normal adult lives. They could be stuck in a feeling; in a time where things didn’t make much sense… but at least they had each other to fall back on.
“It’s a Hard Knock Life” 8
There are many reasons I believe J.K. Rowling could have opted to unite Snape and Petunia. Though they are completely separate in her storyline, I believe there are many things that Snape and Petunia have in common. Besides the fact that J.K. Rowling likes to plant the seeds of relationships in the darkest, most dank places, she has also shown us that Severus and Petunia both loathe Harry. Of course, they both have their own, separate reasons for hating him, but it is common knowledge that Severus and Petunia both think the quality of their lives would be better without “The Boy Who Lived.” I’m certainly not implying that Petunia and Severus’s relationship transcended into “the Harry years,” but I think by pointing out that they are so similar in their treatment of Harry now directs us to how similar their temperaments and attitudes when they were teenagers. This hatred is evident from the first time we meet both Petunia and Severus… separately, of course. Petunia is making her nephew sleep under the stairs in a broom closet, wear hand-me-down clothes that are easily twice his size, and act as the “house-elf” of the Dursley Manor: cooking and cleaning for the ungrateful family. Severus also shows his disdain for the boy in a similar fashion. He unfairly singles Harry out, grades him unjustly, and likes to publicly humiliate him whenever possible.
Is it a coincidence that both Petunia and Severus have such a deep hatred for Harry? I don’t think it is. Harry represents everything that went wrong between Petunia and Severus. Harry’s got it all… he’s a powerful wizard who owns the respect of the wizarding community (something that Severus always wanted but never received), he was accepted into the wizarding community with no questions asked (something that Petunia likely longed for, but never received), and he is still able to live and love unconditionally without boundaries (which is something Petunia and Severus have never been able to allow themselves to do), even with all the adversities and obstacles in his relatively young life.
Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave 9
As there are glaring similarities between Severus and Petunia’s personalities, there are also similarities in their sensibilities. We have been properly introduced to only a handful of residences outside of Hogwarts; Severus’s Home (Spinner’s End) and the Dursley’s House (#4 Privet Drive) are both vastly important to the storyline. Spinner’s End is widely compared with spiders, because “Spinner’s End” is likely a reference to a spider’s web. Snape, like a spider who spins his web, managed to spin a web of lies to both Death Eaters and Order members alike. Hence, “Spinner’s End” is the perfect place for him to reside. It is a gloomy, grimy and isolated dwelling, and we know that it is uninhabited for the majority of the year. Therefore, it seems the perfect place for spiders to inhabit.
Conversely, Petunia’s home is immaculately clean, well lit, and comfy for the Dursley family. However, in the cupboard under the stairs, where Harry slept when we first met him, we see that there are spiders residing in the cupboard. Do you think that Petunia would allow spiders in her home, when she prides herself on cleanliness? Petunia should be in a state of unease about her infestation problem under the stairs. But instead, she seems quite at ease and has made no attempt to rid the cupboard of its inhabitants. Does Petunia exhibit an unnatural comfort level around spiders for someone who has made housecleaning and mothering her chosen profession? If she had spent time on Spinner’s End, in whatever facet, this would explain her ability to overlook the spiders and still maintain cleanliness in her home that meets her own expectations. Therefore, the spider connection between Severus and Petunia is another coincidence that cannot be so easily explained away.
“You’re So Jaded… and I’m the One Who Jaded You…” 10
All good things must come to an end… and it is obvious, as Severus and Petunia are living distinctly separate lives; their ship must have sailed some time ago. How did it end? Amicably? Unpleasantly? How are we, the reader, to know? This takes us back to the “awful boy” incident.
After seeing Lily try to reach out to Snape in “Snape’s Worst Memory,” 11 it is not out of the realm of possibility that Snape could have gone to Lily after getting scared about being a “double agent” and asking for her advice and assistance. That is the most likely explanation for what Petunia overheard. It ties a few things together: it explains why Snape asked Voldemort to spare Lily, and why Dumbledore trusts Snape (because Dumbledore is operating on Lily’s account of Snape’s good character).
This conversation wasn’t all sunshine and roses, and turned out to be both Snape’s saving grace and his undoing. Suppose Severus and Lily’s conversation about Azkaban and Dementors also included a confession to Lily that he had participated in “Dark Magic” and had been an underling to Lord Voldemort. Then, imagine if it had been overheard by Petunia, and imagine how great the fallout of Severus’s favor with Petunia would have been. I believe that after Severus confessed that he was working for Voldemort and that he feared rotting in Azkaban and facing the Dementors, Petunia ran away from the house and never looked back. She was confused about magic and was afraid of all the aspects of magic she knew nothing about. Severus likely tried to find her, and he understood that Lily was his best chance at tracking her down and bringing her home. Therefore, Petunia is probably why Severus pleaded with Lord Voldemort to keep Lily alive. If Lily died, his best and only chance to explain to the woman that he loved that he was no longer siding with Lord Voldemort died with her. Petunia, however, had moved on with her life. She had found the most “Muggle-ish” man she could and married him straight away, seemingly leaving all the fear, confusion, and pain of the magical world far behind her. That is, of course, until Harry Potter landed on her doorstep. It is my belief “that awful boy” is a reference to Severus; a man who broke her heart and crippled her with fear about the wizarding world for life. The pointed reference is full of loathing and vindictiveness; and those sorts of feelings are only reserved for people who really hurt someone. Of all the “boys” in Petunia’s life, Severus is the most likely to fit the bill on that kind of hurt.
“In the End, I Want To Be Standing At The Beginning With You…” 12
Though many of these theories may be viewed as speculation, I believe that we will find there is something more to the connection between Severus Snape and Petunia Evans (Dursley) in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I understand that wrapping one’s head around this particular theory requires the willingness to “think outside the box,” and not everyone may be willing to see this as anything more than utterly ridiculous. However, for those select few who possess a talent for open-mindedness, I believe you will find there is some validity to my thought process. Look at their mannerisms, their open hostility toward Harry and Lily, their practical affection for spiders, the canon evidence from J.K. Rowling herself, and the “That Awful Boy” chapter. These are clues that run Severus and Petunia’s characters parallel to each other. Since J.K. Rowling has said that there is “more than meets the eye” to Petunia, and that Snape was “not under the invisibility cloak at Godric’s Hollow,” 13 I think these particular events will tie together and paint the picture of their past relationship. Like the steel used to construct the Titanic, Severus and Petunia’s relationship was unable to hold up under pressure after taking a hit, thus plunging The Unsinkable Ship to the depths of the ocean.
1. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 34.
3. Anelli and Spartz, “TLC/MN Interview Part Three.”
4. Rowling, “Edinburgh Book Festival.”
5. Ibid., Interview by Christopher Lydon.
6. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 467.
7. Ibid., 521.
8. Strouse and Charnin, lyrics from Annie.
9. Scott, “Marmion,” Canto VI, XVII.
10. Tyler and Frederiksen, lyrics from “Jaded.”
11. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 570–71.
12. Marx, lyrics from “At the Beginning.”
13. Rowling, “Snape was hiding under the Invisibility Cloak.”
Anelli, Melissa and Emerson Spartz. “The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling: Part Three.” The Leaky Cauldron, 16 July 2005 http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2005/0705-tlc_mugglenet-anelli-3.htm (accessed 14 January 2007).
Marx, Richard. “At the Beginning.” Anastasia: Music from the Motion Picture (soundtrack). Atlantic/Wea, 1997.
J.K. Rowling Official Site. “Rumours: Snape was hiding under the Invisibility Cloak on the night the Potters died.” http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/rumours_view.cfm?id=46 (accessed 10 December 2006).
———. “News: J K Rowling at the Edinburgh Book Festival.” 15 August 2004. http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/news_view.cfm?id=80 (accessed 10 December 2006).
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.
———. Interview by Christopher Lydon, The Connection (WBUR Radio), 12 October, 1999. Transcript, Quick Quotes Quill, http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/1999/1099-connectiontransc2.htm (accessed 14 January 2007).
Scott, Walter. Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field. Edinburgh: Archibald Constable and Company, 1808.
Strouse, Charles and Martin Charnin. “It’s a Hard Knock Life.” Annie, Original Broadway Cast (Soundtrack). Sony, 1977.
Tyler, Steven and Marti Frederiksen, “Jaded.” Aerosmith: Just Push Play (album). Sony, 2001.