Among Harry Potter fans, one subject is quickly overtaking religion and politics as a taboo topic for polite conversation. The controversial subject is whether Severus Snape is good, evil or somewhere in between. With six books full of ambiguous actions and salacious rumors, the debate over Snape’s status as “saint” or “sinner” is closely linked with his key role in the death of Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
Severus Snape is a rich character whose function in the Harry Potter series has been that of an adult antagonist for J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard, Harry Potter. From the first book to the last, Harry has always questioned Snape’s actions. However, Harry’s suspicions have been put down time and again by subsequent events and the Hogwarts Headmaster’s repeated vouching for Snape’s trustworthiness.
Obviously Snape’s story, like the series’ title character’s own, is incomplete until the seventh and final installment is written by J.K. Rowling and published for the waiting world. Meanwhile, six books give ample examples of Snape’s conduct and is the basis for present discussions.
While Snape is first introduced as the “Potions Master” in the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, he later proclaims himself as the “Half-Blood Prince” in the book bearing the same name.1 In between, Snape often lurks in shadow and dwells in dark places. His manners, motivations and loyalties are likewise shrouded in mystery and seeming contradiction. To shed some light on the real Severus Snape, one must look at his origins and actions in order to answer the ultimate question: “Is Snape good or evil?”
Little is actually known about Severus Snape’s back-story. In The Half Blood Prince, Hermione finds evidence that Snape was a half-blood wizard, born to a Muggle father and witch mother.2 In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, there is a brief scene in which Harry Potter views flashes of Snape’s memories:
– a hook-nosed man was shouting at a cowering woman, while a small dark-haired boy cried in a corner . . . . A greasy-haired teenager sat alone in a dark bedroom, pointing his wand at the ceiling, shooting down flies . . . A girl was laughing as a scrawny boy tried to mount a bucking broomstick – 3
From these brief flashes, one may suppose that Snape comes from an unhappy and abusive home. Snape also appears to have been a loner and likely an outsider at school. The idea of Snape as an adolescent outcast is also supported by parts of a memory that Harry witnesses in The Order of the Phoenix:
Snape was on his feet again, and was stowing the O.W.L. paper in his bag. As he emerged from the shadows of the bushes and set off across the grass, Sirius and James stood up. . .
“All right, Snivellus?” said James loudly.
Snape reacted so fast it was as though he had been expecting an attack: Dropping his bag, he plunged his hand inside his robes, and his wand was halfway into the air when James shouted,
Snape’s wand few twelve feet into the air and fell with a little thud in the grass behind him. Sirius let out a bark of laughter.
“Impedimenta!” he said, pointing his wand at Snape, who was knocked off his feet, halfway through a dive toward his own wand.
Students all around had turned to watch. Some of them had gotten to their feet and were edging nearer to watch. Some looked apprehensive, others entertained.
Snape lay panting on the ground. James and Sirius advanced on him, wands up, James glanced over his shoulder at the girls at the water’s edge as he went. . .
“How’d the exam go, Snivelly?” said James.
“I was watching him, his nose was touching the parchment,” said Sirius viciously. “There’ll be great grease marks all over it, they won’t be able to read a word.”
Several people watching laughed; Snape was clearly unpopular.4
Snape is alone and pondering his Defense Against the Dark Arts exam paper in the above scene. One may wonder if Snape had any real friends at Hogwarts, as it appears none come to his aid here. As a half-blood youth, Snape’s Slytherin housemates wouldn’t have readily accepted him either, since the house history shows a preference for pureblood witches and wizards. However, Snape appears to have been “part of a gang of Slytherins who nearly all turned out to be Death Eaters.” 5
Nonetheless, Snape seems to have focused on his studies at Hogwarts. With an obvious interest in the Dark Arts and knowledge of a variety of curses, Snape is also talented at Potions. From all the hand-written notes that he makes in his Advanced Potions textbook, Snape appears to have been a dedicated student who experimented with alternative ideas and solutions. Snape’s written enhancements to instructions to a variety of potions unintentionally help Harry through his sixth-year Potions class.
In addition to the serendipitous aid to Harry’s sixth-year Potions studies, the son of Eileen Prince (Severus Snape) has performed some praiseworthy deeds during the course of the books. Snape has intervened on Harry’s behalf and done things for Dumbledore and other staff members to gain their trust. Snape performs the counter curse that keeps Quirrell’s jinx from throwing Harry off his broom during a Quidditch match.6 Snape also gives Dolores Umbridge fake Veritaserum, attempts to teach Harry Occlumency, and informs the Order of the Phoenix when Harry doesn’t return from the Forbidden Forest in The Order of the Phoenix.7 Furthermore Snape prepares the potions protecting the Sorcerer’s Stone, brews the Wolfsbane Potion for Remus Lupin, and administers aid to Dumbledore’s injured hand. Harry also learns that Snape has been acting as a spy for Dumbledore’s Order of the Phoenix in its fight against Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters.8
Such deeds are often given as evidence of Snape’s goodness, loyalty and trustworthiness. The challenge for Harry and the reader is to understand why Snape does these things. He clearly dislikes Harry Potter and Remus Lupin, but Snape helps them anyway. Does Snape do these things because he is good or for some other reason? Snape could be doing all of this out of duty to Dumbledore or out of a sense for self-preservation. Consider the following quote from The Half Blood Prince:
“Yes, Bellatrix, I stayed,” said Snape, betraying a hint of impatience for the first time. ”I had a comfortable job that I preferred to a stint in Azkaban. They were rounding up the Death Eaters, you know. Dumbledore’s protection kept me out of jail; it was most convenient and I used it.9
Snape goes on to explain his reasons for protecting the Sorcerer’s Stone:
“I think you next wanted to know,” he pressed on, a little more loudly, for Bellatrix showed every sign of interrupting, “why I stood between the Dark Lord and the Sorcerer’s Stone. This is easily answered. He did not know whether he could trust me. He thought, like you, I had turned from faithful Death Eater to Dumbledore’s stooge. He was in a pitiable condition, very weak, sharing the body of a mediocre wizard. He did not dare reveal himself to a former ally if that might turn him over to Dumbledore or the Ministry. I deeply regret that he did not trust me. He would have returned to power three years sooner. As it was, I saw only greedy and unworthy Quirrell attempting to steal the stone and, I admit, I did all I could to thwart him.” 10
In addition, Snape explains why he didn’t immediately return for Lord Voldemort’ rebirthing party:
By allowing Dumbledore to think that I was only returning to the Dark Lord’s side because I was ordered to, I have been able to pass information on Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix ever since!11
Some will argue that Snape’s comments to Bellatrix in chapter two of Half Blood Prince can’t be taken at face value; they purport that Snape is telling Bellatrix lies in order to safeguard this position as spy for Dumbledore. If these expressions are lies, they are very well rehearsed. If Snape is telling Bellatrix the truth, then the “good” deeds are little more than half-hearted, hollow acts of self-preservation and cunning. Ultimately, the motivation behind any deed is the true test for whether or not it may be considered good or bad.
In the chapter entitled “Snape’s Worst Memory,” Harry sees first-hand the enmity that existed between his father and his current schoolteacher. The fact that Snape hated Harry’s father is an important point in understanding Snape’s feelings towards Harry and in uncovering Snape’s motivations for subsequent actions towards Harry and others.
Professor Quirrell first reveals this boyhood rivalry to Harry:
“He [Snape] was at Hogwarts with your father, didn’t you know? They loathed each other.” 12
Later Dumbledore confirms Quirrell’s revelation:
“Quirrell said he hates me because he hated my father. Is that true?” [asked Harry.]
[Dumbledore confirmed,] “Well, they did rather detest each other. Not unlike yourself and Mr. Malfoy. And then, your father did something Snape could never forgive.”
“He saved his life.”
“Yes . . .” said Dumbledore dreamily. “Funny, the way people’s minds work, isn’t it? Professor Snape couldn’t bear being in your father’s debt . . . . I do believe he worked so hard to protect you this year because he felt that would make him and your father even. Then he could go back to hating your father’s memory in peace . . .” 13
Later Snape happily gives more details about his personal grudge with James Potter:
“I would hate for you to run away with a false idea of your father, Potter,” he said, a terrible grin twisting his face. “Have you been imagining some act of glorious heroism? Then let me correct you – your saintly father and his friends played a highly amusing joke on me that would have resulted in my death if your father hadn’t got cold feet at the last moment. There was nothing brave about what he did. He was saving his own skin as much as mine. Had their joke succeeded, he would have been expelled from Hogwarts.” 14
Lupin gives more of the story:
“We were in the same year, you know, and we – er – didn’t like each other very much. He especially disliked James. Jealous, I think, of James’s talent on the Quidditch field ... anyway Snape had seen me crossing the grounds with Madam Pomfrey one evening as she led me toward the Whomping Willow to transform. Sirius thought it would be – er – amusing, to tell Snape all he had to do was prod the knot on the tree trunk with a long stick, and he’d be able to get in after me. Well, of course, Snape tried it – if he’d got as far as this house, he’d have met a fully grown werewolf – but your father, who’d heard what Sirius had done, went after Snape and pulled him back, at great risk to his life . . . Snape glimpsed me, though, at the end of the tunnel. He was forbidden by Dumbledore to tell anybody, but from that time on he knew what I was.” 15
Jealousy and hatred are strong emotions that have a way of sticking with an individual for years. Snape was jealous over the Marauders’ popularity and prowess. He hated James Potter for embarrassing him, for jinxing him, and pulling the life-threatening trick on him. Sirius explains to Harry:
“James and Snape hated each other from the moment they set eyes on each other, it was just one of those things, you can understand that, can’t you? I think James was everything Snape wanted to be – he was popular, he was good at Quidditch, good at pretty much everything. And Snape was just this little oddball who was up to his eyes in the Dark Arts and James – whatever else he may have appeared to you, Harry – always hated the Dark Arts.” 16
Snape’s hatred for James Potter carries over to Harry. From the moment Snape looks at Harry during the Hogwarts’ start-of-term feast, Harry gets the feeling that Snape doesn’t like him.17 On Harry’s first day of potions class, he learns that Snape hates him, and thus starts a six-year string of ongoing verbal abuse and mistreatment. In Harry’s second year, crashing the Weasley’s car into the Whomping Willow must have stirred up old memories for Snape of the trick James and Sirius played on him near the same tree; it’s no wonder that Snape would want to see James’ son expelled. Over the years Snape takes advantage of every opportunity to embarrass Harry in class and in front of the school. Snape also delights in giving Harry detentions that he knows will be unpleasant.
Snape doesn’t limit his torturing of students to Harry, though. The Potions Master immediately begins picking on Neville Longbottom, whom he calls an “idiot boy” in his first class.18 Later Snape threatens to poison Trevor, Neville’s toad, shortly before bullying him in front of Professor Lupin.19 Snape’s verbal abuse of Neville is ongoing, and later extends to Hermione and other students. However, none is ever quite to the level of his abuse of Harry.
While it is obvious that Snape hates Harry, some readers may miss signs that Severus Snape also resents Albus Dumbledore. Snape had earlier voiced, “Vengeance is very sweet” to Sirius Black when Snape thought he “would be the one to catch” him. 20 At the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Snape is obviously upset over Sirius Black’s escape:
Snape stood there, seething, staring from Fudge, who looked thoroughly shocked at his behavior, to Dumbledore, whose eyes were twinkling behind his glasses. Snape whirled about, robes swishing behind him, and stormed out of the ward.
“Fellow seems quite unbalanced,” said Fudge, staring after him. “I’d watch out for him if I were you, Dumbledore.”
“Oh, he’s not unbalanced,” said Dumbledore quietly, “He’s just suffered a severe disappointment” 21 (Font bolded for emphasis.)
First, Dumbledore forbids Snape to tell anyone that Lupin was a werewolf and that the other Marauders played a dangerous trick on him as a student. Then Snape seems to know that Dumbledore had a hand in Sirius’ escape at the end of The Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s understandable that Snape would resent the person who deprives him of his revenge on Sirius Black after so many years.
Dumbledore tells Harry, “some wounds run too deep for the healing. I thought Professor Snape could overcome his feelings about your father – I was wrong.” 22 Snape’s hate for James’ Potter is a wound that is salted each time he sees Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and Harry Potter. Likewise, Snape seems to hold a grudge for Dumbledore’s involvement in the events from when Snape was a student and when Sirius escapes as an adult.
From the time he was a new student to when he became a tenured teacher, Severus Snape has loved the Dark Arts. Regarding Snape’s time as a student at Hogwarts, Sirius Black tells Harry:
Ever since I found out Snape was teaching here, I’ve wondered why Dumbledore hired him. Snape’s always been fascinated by the Dark Arts, he was famous for it at school. . . . Snape knew more curses when he arrived at school than half the kids in seventh year, and he was part of a gang of Slytherins who nearly all turned out to be Death Eaters.23
When he finally gets to teach his beloved subject, Snape avidly describes the Dark Arts in a speech to his N.E.W.T. class of sixth years:
“The Dark Arts,” said Snape, “are many, varied, ever-changing, and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head ever fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible.”
Harry stared at Snape. It was surely one thing to respect the Dark Arts as a dangerous enemy, another to speak of them, as Snape was doing, with a loving caress in his voice?
“Your defenses,” said Snape, a little louder, “must therefore be as flexible and inventive as the arts you seek to undo.” 24
While Harry Potter is good at Defense Against the Dark Arts, his interest is clearly in the defense aspects. When Hermione suggests that Harry teach his fellow students defensive spells, he is reluctant at first. Finally, Harry accepts the call to lead a group of students who become known as the “D.A.” or “Dumbledore’s Army.”
Unlike Durmstrang Academy, which actually teaches the Dark Arts, the only class at Hogwarts that touches on the shadowy subject is Defense Against the Dark Arts. Therefore Hogwarts students and/or teachers interested in the Dark Arts themselves have only one legitimate source for study. One other potentially dark subject is Potions; the Moste Potente Potions book, which Hermione checks out from the restricted section of the library, describes “potions [that] had effects almost too gruesome to think about.” 25
Snape enthusiastically studied Defense Against the Dark Arts as a Hogwarts student and later aggressively sought the Defense Against the Dark Arts teaching post. For fourteen years Snape was deprived the Defense Against the Dark Arts job but taught Potions instead.26
With such a passion for the subject, one wonders why Snape is not allowed to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts sooner, especially since there is so much turnover in the post. After a string of other Professors, Dolores Umbridge obtains the post in Harry’s fifth year. Umbridge is appointed because Dumbledore could not fill the position himself, and the Ministry of Magic exercised its authority to select one of its own. When Umbridge becomes the Hogwarts High Inquisitor, she asks Snape:
“Do you have any idea why Dumbledore has consistently refused to appoint you?”
“I suggest you ask him,” said Snape jerkily.27
Later, Snape proffers this reason to Bellatrix in The Half Blood Prince:
“He wouldn’t give me the Defense Against the Dark Arts job, you know. Seemed to think it might, ah, bring about a relapse . . . tempt me into my old ways.” 28
Dumbledore finally gave into Snape’s request to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. Was this capitulation out of trust or desperation? Had Snape convinced Dumbledore that he could handle the subject and not “relapse” or was the Headmaster unable to find any other teacher to take the job?
While still a student Severus Snape had a reputation for his interest in the Dark Arts. Over the years that interest grew into a desire to teach at Hogwarts. Still, Dumbledore deprived Snape of the Defense Against the Dark Arts position for fourteen years, but why? What is more intriguing may be why Dumbledore hired Snape to teach at all, when he had once been associated with the Death Eaters.
Once a Death Eater
While the identity of most Death Eaters (Lord Voldemort’s followers) is a closely guarded secret, Harry learns in his fourth year that Severus Snape was one once. Harry also finds out that no Death Eater gets out alive:
“Well, you don’t just hand in your resignation to Voldemort. It’s a lifetime of service or death.” [Sirius Black]29
During an accidental trip into Dumbledore’s Pensieve Harry sees Karkaroff’s trial, where Snape is accused of being a Death Eater:
“Snape has been cleared by this council,” said Crouch disdainfully. “He has been vouched for by Albus Dumbledore.”
“No!” shouted Karkaroff, straining at the chains that bound him to the chair. “I assure you! Severus Snape is a Death Eater!”
Dumbledore had gotten to his feet.
“I have given evidence already on this matter,” he said calmly. “Severus Snape was indeed a Death Eater. However, he rejoined our side before Lord Voldemort’s downfall and turned spy for us, at great personal risk. He is now no more a Death Eater than I am.” 30
Harry then discovers that the Dark Mark is not only a sign placed in the sky by Death Eaters but that the symbol of a human skull with a serpent for a tongue is also branded on each Death Eater’s left arm. Snape shows his brand as evidence of Lord Voldemort’s return in The Goblet of Fire:
“There,” said Snape harshly. “There. The Dark Mark. It is not as clear as it was an hour or so ago, when it burned black, but you can still see it. Every Death Eater had the sign burned into him by the Dark Lord. It was a means of distinguishing one another, and his means of summoning us to him. When he touched the Mark of any Death Eater, we were to Disapparate, and Apparate, instantly, at his side.” 31
Despite the Dark Mark, Snape has obviously given Dumbledore one or more reasons to trust him, but those reasons are still elusive. Sirius Black, who is also a recipient of Dumbledore’s trust, comments:
“There’s still the fact that Dumbledore trusts Snape, and I know Dumbledore trusts where a lot of other people wouldn’t, but I just can’t see him letting Snape teach at Hogwarts if he’d ever worked for Voldemort.” 32
However, Sirius adds, “Snape’s certainly clever and cunning enough to keep himself out of trouble.” 33 Snape certainly professes his cunning in these words to Bellatrix:
“I have played my part well,” said Snape. ”And you overlook Dumbledore’s greatest weakness: He has to believe the best of people. I spun him a tale of deepest remorse when I joined his staff, fresh from my Death Eater days, and he embraced me with open arms – though, as I say, never allowing me nearer the Dark Arts than he could help.” 34
While Dumbledore’s testimony was effective enough for the Ministry of Magic not to send Snape to prison in Azkaban, one shouldn’t disregard Karkaroff’s testimony; as a Death Eater himself, he would have known Snape and likely knew more details about his activities as a servant of Lord Voldemort than were revealed. Karkaroff would have also known first hand that once you become a Death Eater, the only way out is death.
Dumbledore gave testimony that Snape was a spy working against Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters. When Voldemort returns and the Order of the Phoenix is called into service again, Snape is entrusted with access to #12 Grimmauld Place (the Headquarters for the Order) and comes there to give a “top secret” report to the Order members on Harry’s first night at Sirius’ house.
However, the question of Snape’s loyalty is tested by events in HBP. In a conversation with a convicted Death Eater, Bellatrix Black, Snape boasts:
The Dark Lord is satisfied with the information I have passed him on the Order. It led, as perhaps you have guessed, to the recent capture and murder of Emmeline Vance, and it certainly helped dispose of Sirius Black, though I give you full credit for finishing him off.35
Next, Draco Malfoy, a newly recruited Death Eater, believes that Snape is working for Lord Voldemort:
“He hasn’t been doing your orders, he promised my mother – ” [Draco says to Dumbledore.]
“Of course that is what he would tell you, Draco, but –” [responds a disbelieving Dumbledore.]
“He’s a double agent, you stupid old man, he isn’t working for you, you just think he is!” 36
Although it is obvious that Snape is a double agent, it is not as clear for which side he is working. What is clear is that Snape goes on to kill Albus Dumbledore and escape with other Death Eaters in the final chapters of The Half Blood Prince.
A Time for Answers
While the veracity of Albus Dumbledore’s death is nearly as debated as Severus Snape’s loyalties, the subject of Dumbledore’ death is outside the scope of this paper. As a basis for this study of Snape, let it suffice that Dumbledore is in fact dead and that Snape killed him as described in the pages of J.K. Rowling’s book:
Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face.
“Severus . . . please . . .”
Snape raised his wand and pointed it directly at Dumbledore.
A jet of green light shot from the end of Snape’s wand and hit Dumbledore squarely in the chest.37
Theories abound about secret plans that Snape may have made with Dumbledore, including the popular: “Snape is acting on Dumbledore’s orders to kill him.” 38 Dumbledore’s expression of “Severus . . . please . . .” (see above) is interpreted by some as a final reminder to Snape of some secret agreement. The fact is there is no hard evidence to support such conjecture. Likewise, discussions around Snape’s “Unbreakable Vow” with Draco Malfoy’s mother, Narcissa, are filled with uncorroborated speculation. While J.K. Rowling is famous for surprise endings to her books, she is mindful of her audience and provides adequate clues for careful readers to follow to her conclusions. J.K. Rowling has said:
The Harry books are supposed to be full of surprises, but I tried to make sure that they unfold in a realistic way. The characters are allowed to act out of character and show hidden facets because that’s what people do from time to time.39
In another interview, Ms. Rowling said:
A lot happens in the sixth book and a lot of questions are answered. I really have a sense that we are nearly there and it is time for answers, not more questions and clues, although obviously there are a few clues as I am not quite finished yet.40 (Font bolded for emphasis.)
Since “it is time for answers,” one would expect that events in The Half Blood Prince should reveal true allegiances rather that create whole new questions about loyalty. Although Rowling has concealed information in her books, the secrets are nearly always explained in the end.
Supreme Acts and Choices
Given the fact that Snape kills Dumbledore with the Avada Kedavra curse, the question becomes why? Reasons include: 1) self preservation, 2) commitment to Lord Voldemort’s cause, and 3) deeply seated hatred for Dumbledore.
Firstly, Snape might have simply committed murder out of self-preservation – kill or be killed. He has seen what happens to deserters to the Dark Lord’s ranks. Regulus Black and Igor Karkaroff are two examples in the story of former Death Eaters who were hunted down and killed for trying to get out. Snape also makes the “Unbreakable Vow” with Narcissa to complete Draco’s task, should the young Malfoy fail. Since Draco fails at his task to kill Dumbledore, Snape is obligated to step in and kill the Hogwarts Headmaster or die from the vow himself. Regardless of whether it was out of fear of the Dark Lord or fear of the vow, Snape may have chosen to kill Dumbledore to simply save himself.
Secondly, Snape may have been working for Lord Voldemort all along. This rational is supported by what Draco Malfoy tells Dumbledore just before Snape kills the Headmaster. It is also in-line with what Snape tells Bellatrix:
“I am pleased to say, however, that Dumbledore is growing old. The duel with the Dark Lord last month shook him. He has since sustained a serious injury because his reactions are slower than they once were. But through all these years, he has never stopped trusting Severus Snape, and therein lies my great value to the Dark Lord.” 41
The above quote also provides an argument against ideas that Snape may have killed Dumbledore out of pity. As a mole, Snape was in perfect position to act when given the opportunity to fulfill Voldemort’s plans, which certainly included Dumbledore’s murder.
Thirdly, Snape may have killed Dumbledore out of resentment and hatred for Dumbledore. Snape uses an “Unforgivable Curse” to kill Dumbledore—the Avada Kedavra. This curse not only requires “a powerful bit of magic behind it,” 42 but as one of the “Unforgivable Curses,” it requires some strong emotion too:
“Never used an Unforgivable Curse before, have you, boy?” she [Bellatrix Black] yelled. . . . “You need to mean them, Potter! You need to really want to cause pain – to enjoy it – righteous anger won’t hurt me for long.” 43
For Snape to use an Unforgivable Curse, he would have to really hate Dumbledore, possibly for his failure to expel James Potter for his bullying and for his part in Sirius Blacks’ prank. Snape would also have to deeply resent Dumbledore for assisting in Sirius’ escape when he was so close to receiving the Dementor’s kiss. Snape would have poured his hatred for Harry Potter into the curse for all the times that Dumbledore intervened with punishments, delayed detentions, and prevented expulsions from school. Snape’s hatred is again seen as he confronts Harry shortly after killing Dumbledore and illustrates the continued grudge Snape holds for Harry’s father, James:
Snape’s pale face, illuminated by the flaming cabin, was suffused with hatred just as it had been before he cursed Dumbledore.
“You dare use my own spells against me, Potter? It was I who invented them – I, the Half-Blood Prince! And you’d turn my inventions on me, like your filthy father, would you? I don’t think so . . . no!” 44
Finally, Snape would have used the resentment and hatred of fourteen years being denied the Defense Against the Dark Arts post to ensure the curse’s effectiveness when he kills Dumbledore.
Snape’s decision to kill Dumbledore might have been motivated by a number of strong emotions. He might have made the decision in an instant, there on the tower, or planned it for months or even years in advance. Nonetheless, it was a choice that Snape made to kill Dumbledore. For whatever the reason, the action and the choice must speak for themselves.
Consider what Harry Potter’s creator, J.K. Rowling, had to say about “choices” in her story:
What I’m working towards here is the fact that our choices rather than our abilities show us what we truly are. That’s brought out in the difference between Harry and his arch enemy, Tom Riddle.
In Chamber of Secrets, Harry is told by the hat that if he goes into Slytherin he will become a powerful wizard. He chooses not to do that. But Tom Riddle, who has been twisted by ambition and lack of love, succumbs to the desire for power.45 (Font bolded for emphasis.)
Through her character Horace Slughorn, J.K. Rowling calls murder an “act of evil – the supreme act of evil.” 46 One can try to understand the many
possible reasons and to justify Snape’s motivations, but killing Dumbledore in his defenseless state was a supremely unforgivable act. Regardless of the rationale, Snape’s act of murdering Dumbledore was evil.
Finding Only Evil
J.K. Rowling has written the character of Severus Snape with deliberate ambiguity, which was required to promote the suspense of her books and to preserve the ultimate story arch. With only six of the promised seven books in print, the definitive word on Snape’s loyalty has not been written or read by a world of avidly awaiting fans. Book seven revelations aside, it is this author’s opinion that the facts of the first six volumes support the arguments that “Snape is evil,” whatever the rationale for killing Albus Dumbledore may be.
As Dumbledore told Harry, “some wounds run too deep for the healing.” Possibly, Snape never healed from being an abused child in a half-blood home. His years in school saw conflict with classmates and eventually led him to working with the Death Eaters and to serving Lord Voldemort. As a Potions Master, Snape was frustrated by not being able to teach his favorite subject – the Dark Arts. Nonetheless, Snape is responsible for his own actions. Neither a troubled childhood nor adolescent angst should be used to excuse Snape’s adult deeds. The build-up of hatred, jealousy and resentment was Snape’s personal choice; it was also his choice to murder the one person who saw the good in him, trusted him and gave him a second chance. While there is record of some of Snape’s worthwhile actions, half-hearted good deeds don’t make up for evil acts such as bullying and abusing students and ultimately committing murder. In looking for the “good” in Severus Snape, it’s hard to find anything but evil.
1. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. P.604.
2. ibid. P.637.
3. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003. P.591-592.
4. ibid. P.645-646.
5. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000. P.531.
6. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1998. P.289.
7. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003. P. 833.
8. ibid. P.69.
9. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. P.27.
10. ibid. P.28.
12. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1998. P.290.
13. ibid. P.300.
14. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999. P.285.
15. ibid. P.357.
16. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003. P.670.
17. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1998. P. 126.
18. ibid. P.139.
19. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999. P.127-128,132.
20. ibid. P.360.
21. ibid. P.420.
22. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003. P.833.
23. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000. P.531.
24. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. P.177-178.
25. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic, 1999. P.164.
26. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003. P. 363.
27. ibid. P.364.
28. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. P.27.
29. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003.P.112.
30. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000. P.590-591.
31. ibid. P.710.
32. ibid. P.532.
33. ibid. P.531.
34. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. P.31.
35. ibid. P.30.
36. ibid. P.588.
37. ibid. P.596-597.
38. Haber, Dave. “Dumbledore is Not Dead.” 2005-2006. Dumbledore Is Not Dead.com. 26 March 2006. http://www.dumbledoreisnotdead.com/snapeclues.html.
39. Renton, Jennie. “The story behind the Potter legend: JK Rowling talks about how she created the Harry Potter books and the magic of Harry Potter’s world,” Sydney Morning Herald, October 28, 2001. Quick Quotes Quill. 26 March 2006. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/articles/2001/1001-sydney-renton.htm.
40. “J K Rowling at the Edinburgh Book Festival: Sunday, August 15, 2004.” Video of the Festival from Scotland Today. Transcript. 3 June 2005. Quick Quotes Quill. 26 March 2006. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/articles/2004/0804-ebf.htm.
41. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. P.31.
42. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000. P.217.
43. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003. P.810.
44. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. P.604.
45. Renton, Jennie. “The story behind the Potter legend: JK Rowling talks about how she created the Harry Potter books and the magic of Harry Potter’s world,” Sydney Morning Herald, October 28, 2001. Quick Quotes Quill. 26 March 2006. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/articles/2001/1001-sydney-renton.htm.
46. Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. P.497-498.
Rowling, JK. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1998.
Quick Quotes Quills. “The Largest Archive of J.K. Rowling Quotes on the Web.” 2003-2005. Quick Quotes Quills. 26 March 2006. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/index2.html.