Severing the snarl from severus snape

"An absolutely great entry I received by [eos]. If you're interested in the Snape character in the HP books, you'll love this article!"


          Surfing through the various HP sites, it was amusing to see how many devoted followers the character of Snape has engendered. Conjectures have been made about his special task for Dumbledore, the detailed past he shares with James and Lilly Potter, and JKR's hints on Snape's future romance. GOF ends with Harry wondering if Snape truly is one of the "good guys", or if he's still covertly playing for the other team.

Of all the Snape comments on the internet, my favorite was in an online interview with JKR. A reader asked, "Why does Dumbledore allow Snape to be so mean to Harry?" JKR replied, "Dumbledore believes in all kinds of education." I had been puzzling over this same question, and JKR's response really struck a chord with me. It seemed to tie into many of the bigger questions fans have been grappling with while waiting eagerly for June 21st...

1) In GOF, Voldemort tells us that Harry has been so well protected by Dumbledore that he's untouchable at the Dursley's. We can guess that Arabella Figg is connected to that protection somehow, but we know nothing more.

2) By coincidence, Voldemort makes his first return appearance in a decade (at Hogwarts, nonetheless) in the same year that Harry begins his studies at Hogwarts. Even though the Philosopher's Stone has been around for centuries, Dumbledore suspects that this will be the year that someone will attempt to steal it and will succeed in breaking into Gringott's.

Rather than shield Harry, Dumbledore lets Harry watch Hagrid remove the stone from Gringotts, empowers him with the cloak, allows him to find the Mirror of Erised, and even gives Harry a chance to face Voldemort alone before coming to the rescue.

3) In the beginning of COS, Ron makes the comment that everyone hates Snape. But this is not entirely true. Harry's Gryffindor classmates certainly do, but other than the weekly witnesses to his mistreatment of Harry, Ron, Herminone and Neville, the worst thing any of the current staff or students have to say about Snape is that he hates teaching Potions and wants the DADA job.

Even McGonagall, though sometimes bemoaning Snape's jabs about the ever-victorious Slitherin House and/or Quidditch Team, does so in the same tone used by Ron and Hermione when complaining about each other. Whenever there is an emergency, McGonagall and Snape are often the first to appear, side-by-side, and as the books progress, we find them regularly sitting together during the meals. Now, I'm not suggesting romance (she's far too old for him), but I believe there is a definite sense of mutual respect and comeraderie which resides between them.

4) In terms of Snape's questionable teaching methods when it comes to Malfoy, Harry and Neville (Ron and Hermione usually just get caught in the cross-fire), I am reminded of Dumbledore's speech at the end of GOF, when he talks about the importance of choosing the right way over the easy way. JKR has said in many interviews that that quote will prove crucial to upcoming plots.

We can all guess that Percy's going to have a hard time of it, and that Ginny's going to get a chance to prove what a tough cookie she really is, but I believe the crux of this choice will revolve around the interesting juxtaposition between Malfoy and, not Harry, but Neville.

In Hogwarts daily life both Harry and Snape serve as strongest ally for one and strongest antagonist for the other. While Dumbledore is increasingly present in Harry's life, he remains peripheral to both Malfoy and Neville. Hermione, while more actively involved in their lives, is still not afforded Harry's status to protect or aggravate. It is Snape and Harry who serve as electrically charged poles. Both Neville and Malfoy long for the approval of each.

5) In POA, Dumbledore begins to hire teachers who will form a close and protective relationship with Harry. Hagrid (who has had a special role in Dumbledore's "Search and Protect" mission from the beginning) is made a teacher, giving him more time to talk with and observe Harry. James' close friend is hired. Later, in GOF, Dumbledore hires a retired auror to keep a close eye on Harry (and Karkaroff).

6) While Snape certainly threatens Harry with points lost, detention, suspension, and expulsion every chance he gets, it is made very clear that he doesn't have the power to carry out either of the heftier threats. And mostly what he barks about is restricting Harry's freedom to wander at all times of the day and night wherever he pleases. Something actually which is simply an echo of Hermione's, Hagrid's, Lupin's, Black's and McGonagall's own advice and concerns, each given with a different delivery.

7) When Snape found the group in the Shrieking Shack, he took the children's wands, but never once tried to harm, bind or stun them. Later he acknowledged to Fudge that they had been responsible for his injury, but he immediately protected them, saying they had been enchanted.

8) In spite of the fact that Dumbledore believes in telling the truth at all times, he is definitely selective about when to speak and when to stay silent. Sometimes he willingly encourages flasehoods through his silence, as in the case of encouraging the rumor that the Shrieking Shack was haunted to prevent intruders during Lupin's transformations.

9) Trelawney's first "true" prediction, metioned by Dumbledore, most likely involves Harry and Voldemort and has been a catalyst for both the protection and education measures Dumbledore has undertaken with Harry.

And now back to JKR's response: "Dumbledore believes in all kinds of education."

When Voldemort attacked the Potters, Harry was a little over a year old. We know that Snape had been working for Dumbledore before Voldemort's downfall (about a year?). We know that Dumbledore had received inside information that the Potters were Voldemort's next target. It is easy to conjecture that Snape was the informant who warned Dumbledore of Voldemort's plans.

If we want to be especially imaginative we can go further and speculate that it was the birth of James' son and Voldemort's plans to kill them which persuaded Snape to change sides, due to the life-debt he owed to James. Dumbledore has already hinted to Harry that the life-debt Wormtail owes to him may one day be an important saving grace. It is possible that Dumbledore was thinking of Harry's own father when he said that. But again, this is being very imaginative.

So James and Lilly are killed, and somehow Dumbledore finds out about it in time to send Hagrid (not himself ???) to get Harry before the police arrive (an entire house collapsed--it couldn't have taken them very long), but does not find out in enough time to prevent it, aid James and Lilly, or destroy Voldemort's wand.

Perhaps he didn't realize what was happening until Voldemort was attacked by his rebounding curse. Dumbledore apparates, J & L are dead, Harry's alive, Voldemort -and his wand (???)- are both gone. He immediately tracks Voldemort to discover what happened and to assess Voldemort's current power. While (???) Dumbledore's tracking Voldemort, he contacts Hagrid and sends him to fetch/ hide Harry until Dumbledore finishes his assessment of Voldemort and is able to plan Harry's protection for the next ten years.

So Dumbledore decides that Voldemort will be out of commission for a while, and that the best place for Harry will be with his magic-hating muggle relatives. He sets about making #4 Privet Drive more heavily guarded than Azkaban, probably using some very intense enchantments that guard not only the house, but all of it's inhabitants (Harry will have to go to school and the grocery store occasionally, after all).

Arabella Figg (a member of The Order of the Phoenix?) is placed in the neighborhood, and who knows what sort of threats, cautions, warnings, instructions were written in the letter that Dumbledore left with Harry.

So Harry grows up in the muggle world, in a tighter lock-box than his cupboard. Meanwhile, the Death-Eaters are now being rounded up, and Dumbledore brings Snape forward and takes him under his official protection. At some point, Snape is made a faculty member at Hogwarts. He's only in his early-mid twenties when James is killed, so it is possible he begins as an assistant or adjunct professor. Most surely though, Dumbledore will want him at Hogwarts to keep him safe while there are still renegade Death Eaters wandering about, seeking revenge.

Dumbledore also wants to strengthen Snape's loyalty to him. Harry will be coming to Hogwarts in the not-too-distant future, and because of Trelawney's prophecy regarding Harry and Voldemort, and because of the bond they share through "the curse that failed", Dumbledore knows that Voldemort will begin to resurface at that same time.

It's time for Harry to begin at Hogwarts. Dumbledore probably knows that Harry will be put into either Slitherin or Gryffindor, and hopes that he will choose Gryffindor. He assigns Hagid, McGonagall and Snape various tasks/ roles to take with Harry.

Hagrid is asked to befriend Harry. Hagrid usually does not get close to the students unless they seek him out for information on monsters (like Charlie Weasley), but Dumbledore wants Harry to have a down-to-earth ally who will not be too uptight about the rules, but who will also look after him. Hagrid is also instructed to put in a bad word for Slitherin.

McGonagall is asked to keep a sharp eye on him, but also to give him considerable space. The minute he displays an unusual talent, it is to be fostered so that he can build his confidence and sense of belonging. But this fostering was not to be given by McGonagall directly. That Harry's first displayed talent was flying and hand-eye coordination made things easy for her.

And Snape. At long last, here's my big theory-- Snape was asked by Dumbledore to play the antagonist to Harry. In GOF, Moody mentions that it takes great strength of character to fight off an Imperius curse, and that very few people have that. But Harry does. Why?

Why did Dumbledore send Harry to live with the Durselys? To say that he didn't want Harry to grow up a celebrity in the wizarding world isn't enough. Harry could have been put in an orphanage or raised by wizards who agreed to live as muggles. Dumbledore probably could have found a nice muggle family and convinced them to raise Harry. Why the Dursleys?

Part of the reason could have to do with whatever enchantments Dumbledore put over the house and the family for Harry's protection. It might be that those enchantments require a blood connection to be effective. Blood-lines are an ever-present theme in the HP books, after all.

But I think that it has a lot more to do with the fact that Dumbledore believes in all kinds of education. How is strength of character built? Through adversity. And Dumbledore knew that genetically, Harry was endowed with enough pride, courage and humor to not be completely downtrodden by that sort of upbringing.

In addition, there must have been a something else which convinced Dumbledore that his experiment with Harry would not create another Tom Riddle. Something to prevent Harry from growing resentful, bitter, revengeful, and overly-ambitious. Maybe it was a part of the protective enchantments, or maybe it was Arabella Figg's stale chocolate-- who knows?

But Dumbledore is certainly aware of Harry's treatment at the Dursley's, as he is aware of his treatment at the hands of Snape. The fact that Snape had been a very public rival with James at Hogwarts, has kept Dumbledore's plan from being obvious.

Granted, I'm not saying that Snape doesn't get a bit of enjoyment out of torturing poor Harry, I'm just suggesting that it's like an elaborate game for him-- challenging and rewarding, requiring much creativity and vigilance.

When Lockhart started the dueling club, Snape made sure he was there, and was responsible for Harry learning the Expelliarmus charm, possibly the most useful piece of magic Harry's learned at Hogwarts so far.

Although Harry often describes a look of pure loathing directed at him from Snape, there is also a second look, which Harry is sometimes surprised to see. This is a look of assessment. Snape gives him this look after Harry reveals that he's a Parselmouth, and at the end of GOF, during the farewell feast. It is my belief that this is a look similar to the one Dumbledore often gives Harry-- in that look, Snape is measuring Harry's growth, his strength, his talent. He's analyzing how far his student in adversity is coming, and how much farther he has to go.

Dumbledore never tells Harry why Snape is so vicious with him. Harry asks why Snape hated his father, and after giving a bit of background information, Dumbledore adds that Snape may have been protecting Harry because of the life-debt he owes James.

Now, I'm totally willing to acknowledge the possibility that there's nothing beneath the surface in terms of Snape's relationship with Harry. It could very well be that Snape, who's just a bit taciturn by nature, is still really bitter towards James and is taking it out on Jame's son. And maybe he guards Harry just because Snape knows that he needs Dumbledore's protection almost as much as Harry does.

I have no proof to offer beyond the little subleties I've already listed. All I can say is that Dumbledore's actions are not random. Harry has a destiny, and I feel strongly that Dumbledore is vigorously training Harry in all sorts of non-academic ways to be ready to meet that destiny. Snape is undoubtably part of that training, and his involvement and behavior is very intentional, at least on Dumbledore's part. The question remains if it is intentional on Snape's behalf as well.

After all, there's no special reason to believe Hagrid or McGonagall are acting on orders in their behavior towards Harry. Even without Dumbledore's encouragement, McGonagall's not the sort of person to buddy up with the students, and her inner mushiness would make her want to help out "poor Harry" in whatever covert ways she could. And Hagrid has already given a perfectly good explanation for his interest in Harry- he identifies with the role of outsider and orphan that Harry wore when he arrived at Hogwarts.

The only reason to believe that Dumbledore gave any of them instructions is because that seems like something Dumbledore would do. The hospital scene at the end of GOF when Dumbledore's giving everyone tasks, is possibly the closest representation we've had so far of what might have happened in those hours after Lilly and James were killed.

One last thought-- is it not curious that Harry, Malfoy, and Neville are all in the same year? Just as I find it interesting to speculate on Snape calculatingly following a special assignment in his treatment of Harry, I also find it intriguing to wonder what his assignments could be(if any) for Malfoy and Neville...

...just some food for thought. Take it or leave it, it is exciting to witness the development of such a popular epic tale. I wonder if this is what people felt like who read Dickens stories serially in the newspapers for the first time?

By [EOS]


- by Olivia Monteith


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